Wyoming Medical Board revokes Casper anesthesiologist’s license

The Wyoming Medical Board has revoked the license of an anesthesiologist following an investigation into a missing bottle of fentanyl.

Dr. Jeffrey Christensen was most recently affiliated with Wyoming Surgical Center (WSC) in Casper, which is adjacent to Casper Orthopedics and several other hospitals. He has been in business for over 15 years.

On October 25, a WSC nurse discovered a discrepancy in the number of fentanyl bottles from 31 to 30 bottles and confirmed that Christensen had used the box that day. The surgery center reported this information to the Wyoming Professional Assistance Program (WPAP).

WPAP told the Wyoming Medical Board that Christensen disclosed to the WPAP clinical director on Oct. 26 that he diverted the vial of fentanyl but did not use it. In another conversation less than two weeks later, he told the director he used fentanyl for several days in June and early August.

On Oct. 30, WPAP sent a letter to the medical board stating that Christensen received a Level III noncompliance, which is required by law to be reported. At the time, Christensen was asked to provide a nail sample, but there were not enough nails to test.

The WSC suspended Christensen for 60 days, and WPAP required him to provide a nail sample on November 13. WPAP also recommended that he submit to a comprehensive residency evaluation at a treatment facility that specializes in working with physicians before returning to work. Additionally, they asked Christensen to follow all recommendations of the review.

Before this incident, Christensen was taking Vivitrol to help him sober up. However, the medical board believed he may not have been taking his medication correctly, which would have made the relapse more noticeable.

Because WPAP disclosed misleading information about Christensen and failed to provide a nail sample a second time, the Wyoming State Medical Board revoked his license on December 5, barring him from practicing medicine in Wyoming. His license will remain suspended unless a contested case hearing overturns the decision. The Wyoming Medical Board will proceed with further revocation proceedings or take other action the Board deems appropriate.

According to the American Addiction Center, the vast majority of anesthesiologists with substance abuse problems are addicted to powerful intravenous opioids such as fentanyl. Studies show that more than 40% of anesthesiologists are enrolled in physical wellness programs due to drug abuse, while only 10% are enrolled in physical wellness programs due to alcohol abuse.

The AAC lists being in close proximity to drugs as a factor in high rates of substance abuse among anesthesiologists and stressful work environments, but there is also evidence that second-hand exposure to nebulized intravenous anesthetics in the workplace may lead to reward-sensitive pathways in the brain and promote further opioid abuse.

Punitive approaches to addiction have long been criticized as society has come to view addiction as a disease that can be successfully treated (see the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s take here). Others, on the other hand, believe that medical personnel’s use of drugs puts patients at serious risk. A drug-addicted health care worker could put thousands of lives at risk.

physician Stephen Lloyd told USA Today. “I work with injuries every day; looking back, it scares me so much what I could have done. I think I did a good job of hiding it. There were signs, behavioral changes. I canceled appointments, I was behind on my paperwork, I started dressing badly and going to (hospital) rounds at odd hours. But no one reported me.”

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