By Pat Anson, Editor
A Montana health clinic that closed its doors last week will reopen on Monday, but without its owner -- who says he will not write opioid prescriptions for chronic pain patients because he is "paralyzed with fear" of being arrested.
"I don't think it's safe for me to continue seeing these patients until I get some reassurance that I can do it. I'm risking my well being by going in there.," said Mark Ibsen, MD, owner of the Urgent Care Plus clinic in Helena.
Ibsen says he left behind "tapering" prescriptions for opioids at lower doses to help wean patients off the drugs and prevent them from going into withdrawal.
"I have a couple who are upset and feel abandoned. And I have a lot of them who are upset and understanding," he said. "They've seen what I am going through. They've been watching me kind of deteriorate emotionally over the last few months. And I tell my patients I can't continue to do this, you've got to find someone else. This is dangerous for me."
Ibsen fears being arrested like Dr. Chris Christensen, another Montana doctor who was recently charged with 400 felonies, including two counts of negligent homicide, in connection with the overprescribing of opioids. Ibsen himself was the target of a lengthy investigation by the Montana Board of Medical Examiners after he started treating some of Dr. Christensen’s former pain patients.
If he keeps writing prescriptions for opioids, Ibsen worries he'll be next.
"The DEA agents that met with me five different times will not meet with me again unless my lawyer is present. My only inference from that is that they have an open investigation. I haven't been able to confirm that , but you don't know that until they walk through the door and cuff you. I have no idea, so I am paralyzed with fear," he said.
Pain News Network caught up with Ibsen in Las Vegas, where he is attending PAINWeek, the nation's largest conference for frontline practitioners in pain management. Ibsen hoped going to the conference would re-energize him, but found that many of the lectures focused on opioid abuse and diversion.--. the very subjects he's grown weary of.
"All I've seen is more evidence of hysteria," he said. "Prescription drug overdose is number 22 on the list of causes of death in America. And this so-called epidemic, I mean calling it an epidemic is insane."
Like Ibsen, other doctors around the country have also stopped writing prescriptions for opioids.
"Many of them with much less provocation than he's had," said Bob Twillman, PhD, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pain Management. "You worry you're going to lose your practice and lose your livelihood by doing something you don't intend to do. And the easiest way to do that is don't go there, don't prescribe."
Ibsen says he was prescribing opioids to about200 patients when he stopped. Some have gone to hospital emergency rooms seeking more medication, while others are in search of new doctors in a state where very few are willing to prescribe to new patients.
"My patients are now being shunned by other doctors and judged by the fact that they've seen me," Ibsen said.