Doctors Behaving Badly: In Iowa, having an MD is a license to take meth

Published on
July 28, 2010

Methamphetamine has proven to be so addictive and so socially destructive that, like cocaine in the 1980s, it is now the Big Bad Drug. It has been the subject of countless news stories, a critically acclaimed television series, a best-selling book and spooky folk art billboards.

It also has been the drug of choice for Dr. Christie Mensch, a family practice physician who has managed to get high and still keep her license all over the Bible Belt.

A patient might expect that being a meth addict and practicing medicine would be mutually exclusive. Doctors are smart, right? Sure, maybe some of them smoke, but none of them would be reckless enough to use meth? And, if a medical board found out that your doctor had a meth problem, you can rest assured that the board would stop them from ever practicing on another patient, right?

Not so if you are a patient in Iowa, Kansas or Missouri. All three states have allowed Mensch to continue to see patients despite her repeatedly failing drug tests for methamphetamine.

Barely out of medical school, Mensch was caught by the Missouri Board of Healing Arts in 2002 with meth in her system. The board put her on probation. She was caught again in 2003. This time she received a public reprimand.

Knowing this, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts still granted Mensch a post-graduate training permit in 2004. She messed that up and was forced by the board to be monitored for substance abuse in 2006, but with the stick came a nice carrot. The board also granted her a full license to practice that year.

In 2007, the Iowa Board of Medicine did the same thing. Like Kansas, the board talked tough. It said Mensch had to be monitored by the Iowa Physician Health Program. The board's own documents read like a Doctors Behaving Badly post. They say she has a "history of substance abuse" and "has been monitored for several years" for substance abuse, but she was granted a license anyway. No one apparently asked why a doctor from Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, would be so eager to keep moving from state to state to state trying to land a license.

And in 2008, Mensch twice violated the terms of her monitoring by refusing to provide a drug sample. This many strikes would seem to surpass the limit. Iowa, after all, is a state that has made combatting meth use a central focus, so much so that it boasts of radically lowering the number of meth-related prison admissions from a high of 697 in 2005 to 343 in 2008.

The Iowa Board, though, put Mensch on probation for two years and ordered her to undergo substance abuse treatment and counseling.

Did it work?

No. As noted above, meth is incredibly addictive. Mensch tested positive again in 2009 and is currently awaiting a hearing in Iowa about the future of her license.

At some point, Mensch let her license lapse in Missouri, and the state no longer provides any record of her service there.

Kansas, meanwhile, already has decided that the new Iowa violation was so serious that it merited a whopping $500 fine. So serious that the board even deemed this fine "non-disciplinary" and redacted whole sections of the public record about this fine.

Final question: How much meth would $500 buy a doctor? By some accounts, about 5 grams.