By Pat Anson, Editor
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry is recommending that the medical license of Mark Ibsen, MD, be suspended indefinitely by the state Board of Medical Examiners for unprofessional conduct.
Ibsen has been at the center of a long-running debate in Montana over the prescribing of opioid pain medication. State investigators say Ibsen overprescribed opioids, kept poor records and risked the health of his patients, while supporters say he is one of the few doctors left in the state willing to treat chronic pain patients. The Board of Medical Examiners is scheduled to meet Thursday to decide Ibsen's fate.
“Opioid deaths are frighteningly common with one source estimating one death for every 500 opioid prescriptions written in America,” wrote Michael Fanning, Special Assistant Attorney General to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
But in his 62-page proposed order, Fanning dos not cite a single case where Ibsen’s prescribing practices led to someone’s death. Instead he focuses on Ibsen’s alleged emotional instability and poor record keeping.
“Dr. Ibsen’s charts did not contain satisfactory evidence that he attempted more conservative care short of chronic opioid therapy,” Fanning wrote. “While the charts include occasional references to mental or behavioral health and rare references to interventional services, there was no consistent evidence that the more conservative option had been attempted and failed before continuing opioid therapy.”
Fanning also said Ibsen overlooked “red flags” in a patient’s behavior that could indicate signs of opioid abuse or diversion, such as multiple requests for early refills of prescriptions, seeing multiple doctors, and multiple lost medications. Ibsen’s charts also did not include records of a written or oral contract with some patients about their opioid use.
Fanning’s proposed order also includes references to “erratic and unprofessional behavior” by Ibsen reported by a former spouse and medical associates. One psychological profile of Ibsen said he suffers from bipolar disorder and narcissism, and that Ibsen “fails to accept responsibility, projects blame onto others and believes that others have conspired against him.”
The state medical board is under no obligation to accept Fanning’s recommendation of indefinite suspension of Ibsen’s license. Last year the board rejected a proposed order from a hearing officer that Ibsen be put on probation for 180 days.
"I don't think I've had fair treatment in three years with the board of medicine. They've rewritten the evidence and are redefining reality," Ibsen told Pain News Network. "I haven't been treated fairly at all. They continue to accuse me of horrible and heinous things for people that I've helped. And there's been no one harmed by anything that I've done."
Ibsen has become something of a hero to pain patients, not only in Montana, but around the country. Many have trouble finding a doctor willing to prescribe opioids.
"I've become quite an advocate for the downtrodden pain patients. I promote medical marijuana as an exit strategy for people on opiates. I may be upsetting the status quo," said Ibsen.
Publicity about his case and financial problems recently forced Ibsen to close his Urgent Care Plus clinic in Helena. Ibsen was arrested in November, not for opioid prescribing, but for a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. He has pleaded not guilty.
Under Fanning's proposed order, Ibsen would be eligible to have his medical license reinstated, provided he was under "perpetual monitoring" by a professional assistance program. Ibsen says he will appeal if his license is restricted.