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.
Little 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.