Montana doctor found guilty of negligent homicide in overdose deaths of 2 patients

Chris Christensen, M.D., faces a maximum sentence of more than 400 years in prison after being found guilty of 22 charges related to his opioid prescribing habits.

A Montana pain doctor was found guilty on Monday on charges that included two counts of negligent homicide related to the overdose deaths of two of his patients.

A jury found 69-year-old Chris Christensen, M.D., guilty on 22 charges that also included 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs and nine counts of criminal endangerment, the Associated Press reported.

Christensen’s lawyer, Josh Van de Wetering, said the doctor plans to appeal those convictions after he is sentenced in late December, per the AP. The maximum sentence is more than 400 years in prison, according to Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright, who prosecuted the case.

RELATED: White House report says opioid epidemic cost $504B in 2015

Christensen’s medical license was suspended by the state Board of Medical Examiners in Janaury 2016, according to the report. Prosecutors argued that the doctor overprescribed opioids and other drugs in dangerous combinations and should have known his prescribing practices were putting patients at risk after the overdose death of five people in Idaho, where he practiced in the 1990s.

The defense argued Christensen was a compassionate physician who prescribed painkillers to ease patients’ suffering and his actions did not constitute a crime.

Medical professionals are increasingly facing criminal charges—including murder charges—when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed. Following the indictment of a New York doctor earlier this month in the deaths of six patients who overdosed on opioids, one DEA agent said the agency is sending a message to "rogue doctors."

The prosecution of doctors and other medical professions who overprescribe opioids is being directed from the top level of law enforcement. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said his department will not let up on efforts to go after medical professionals who overprescribe opioids.

The government is also expanding its Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which is designed to combat the overprescribing of opioid painkillers that have contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic. It has assigned 12 prosecutors to focus solely on opioid-related fraud cases in a dozen hot-spot locations around the country.