Montana Becomes Ground Zero in the Opioid Debate

Montana Becomes Ground Zero in the Opioid Debate

You just never know where life is going to take you.

Over the Christmas holiday, I was visiting my daughter in Helena, Montana. I had been fighting a cold for over a week— and it was, if anything, getting worse. She told me I had to go Urgent Care and get some antibiotics.

I grudgingly went, and while in the exam room awaiting the doctor, I read this article in the Helena Independent Record about the problems Montana was having with prescription pain medication. Given my association with the National Pain Report — I found it more than interesting.

mtLittle did I know that in my search of relief from a wicked cold, I had wandered into ground zero of the Montana version of the War on Opioids.

A couple of minutes later, Dr. Mark Ibsen walked into the room. I mentioned I had read the article, told him about National Pain Report and a passionate discussion about pain patients and pain medication began.

He did also treat my cold — which I recovered from pretty quickly.

Ibsen is the kind of person you often meet in Montana, where I lived for 15 years. He’s smart and iconoclastic — the hardy independent type that seems attracted to Big Sky country. In fact, one of his hobbies is mushing— you know with dogs — and he’s even tried the Iditarod in Alaska.

Ibsen’s independence has him in trouble with the Montana Board of Medical Examiners (read here), which is looking into his pain medication prescribing history.

For Ibsen, it’s a fight he is picking consciously.

“A number of pain patients can no longer even access their own physicians who are afraid of the scrutiny that comes with prescribing pain medication,” Ibsen told me in the exam room. “My job as a doctor is to see all patients who need help, so I see them.”

And he will prescribe pain medication, which has him in hot water with regulators.

“I believe this is a time where need to have a conversation about how we treat chronic pain,” said Ibsen, who handed me a list of alternative therapy providers in Helena (from massage to acupuncture) that he says he gives to every patient.

The major chain pharmacies in Helena are wary of Ibsen. They won’t fill his prescriptions at either CVS or Walgreens.

And yet, Ibsen engenders a lot of support. A hearing of the Montana Board of Medical Examiners last October was packed with his supporters and the comments left on the Helena Independent Record’s website are mostly pro-Ibsen.

At the National Pain Report, we think we are helping to drive that conversation on the identification and treatment of chronic pain that Ibsen talks about.

We have invited him to share some of his thoughts with us — which you will see in the near future — as we will with any other person who, whatever their point of view, can advance that discussion about how we treat chronic pain.

Authored by: Ed Coghlan

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. Ariela Marshall at 2:56 pm

    Thank you Ed Coughlin for propelling the “Pain Conversation” Forward by your wonderful Blog, In life there are never accidents and it was no accident that you wound up in Dr. Mark Ibsen’s Urgent Care Plus Clinic while visiting in Helena, MT

    Thank you for giving Dr. Ibsen a platform to share his many years of experience treating Chronic Pain in ER’s. I look forward to his insights on this subject matter. He is truly a doctor who has a commitment and cares about his patients and their well beings. We need more physicians like Dr. Ibsen. He is what keeps my hope alive that we as “Pain Patients” have an advocate and a voice on our side.
    In life you will either be a patient in pain, have a friend or loved one who is dealing with pain issues or are care giver of someone you love who is in pain. It is like taxes . The only escape from pain is Death.

  2. David Marshall at 2:36 pm

    Everything I read about this case suggests that it is becoming a national trend for the big pharmacies to ignore patients who are in pain and focus instead on relatively simple things like giving flu shots (not that those are unimportant). But I wonder if chronic pain can worsen conditions like the flu, making shots and vaccines ineffective.
    If you have a hole in your roof, every time it rains, you’ll get water on the floor. Sure, you can mop up the water, but the next time it rains the water will be back. If you don’t want the water on the floor, the solution is, of course, to fix the hole in the roof. In the same way, if you don’t want the pain, fix the source of the pain- BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY, and let the good folks of Montana and everywhere else return to health and productivity.

  3. Barbara Walker at 6:47 am

    Walmart stopped dispensing in southern ohio like 2 years ago. I am required to go to a “pain clinic” 50 miles away every month to get my scripts. I tried to do without opioids since last july but have been in misery and nearly bedridden the last 2 months so I am going back to the clinic. the other thing is I don’t even see a doctor there just a doc’s assistant and take a drug test (which I don’t mind), I would like to see the doctor tho. I also really resent having to pay the higher co-pay for seeing a specialist so between the time, suffering gasoline, finding someone to take me and the expense of the co-pay, all for something I used to be able to go to my Primary care doc for, anyway, they make me feel like a loser, a criminal, a drug seeker. And I am none of these things! I am a desperate crippled person who would like to be able to walk my grandson to and from the bus. I would like to be able to walk thru the grocery, I would like to be able to run my vacuum cleaner!

  4. Jen C at 12:53 pm

    CVS & WALGREENS! Wouldn’t you know it, the very two who were engaged in the huge pill diversion in Florida ,(and caught!) now behaving as “health conscious,” like CVS not selling cigarettes, as if no other retailer does(hoping the public will forget they were busted for diverting drugs to those pill mills & blaming patients for taking all those drugs via Dr RX’s) I haven’t nor will I forget, I won’t spend a dime at either place, to me that’s supporting criminals. I have the usual 1doctor, 1 pharmacy contract with my Doc, in fact he & the office gal recommended an independent pharmacy after Walgreens started their tactics of “out of that” “truck didn’t arrive” blah blah blah.Not a problem since, actually I believe the less stress led me to ask for a reduction of my med strengths, “less stress, less pain?”

  5. GORDON BRODY at 1:04 pm

    THEY SHOULD BE WORRYING ALOT MORE ABOUT ALL THE CHILD RAPISTS THEY KEEP GIVING PROBATION TO AND WORRY ALOT LESS ABOUT WHO IS TAKING PILLS ….GEEZUS !!!

  6. Brenda Alice at 8:57 am

    I am one unfortunately with several diseases that cause chronic pain and have faced unbelievable discrimination lately by health-care workers. As a disabled R.N. it is embarrassing and shameful that suffering is acceptable and encouraged in the USA. I too have followed this remarkable doctor and am not surprised at your glowing recommendation. Tennessee is filled with a governor and legislation that is against the disabled and ill. Putting in writing that the top doctors and pharmacies that issue narcotics will be investigated but we know that doesn’t mean guilty. They have limited what primary care can prescribe. I have no cure but medicare and I must pay to go get prescriptions every 30 days. We have the monthly monitor program that is a tool that is being abused. My medication was cut 1/3 to make the dea feel better but keeps me from leaving home because of the pain. If the DEA would concentrate on the criminals and dealers we would see progress. I wish I could meet this wonderful doctor because there is a shortage of people that care. Thank you for writing.

  7. penny schafer at 9:30 pm

    It is obvious this is a doctor who cares about his patients, and is willing to fight for his rights to do the very best for his patients. I have read some of his hearing details, and I personally believe he is being judged a bit harsh. It is a small town and everyone know’s everyone’s business. CVS and Walgreens both have a history of judgemental character. I hope his patients and community stand behind this doctor and support him. The state of Montana needs more doctor’s like Ibsen who are there to help these patient’s when other’s chose to judge them and turn them away. I hope he win’s this battle and continues his career in helping the patients who need and depend on him.