Pubdate: Thu, 16 Dec 2004
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2004 Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Author: Paul Bradley, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


Jury Convicts Him On 50 Counts, Acquits On 9, Still Considering 3

ALEXANDRIA - A prominent Northern Virginia doctor accused of fueling a
black market in potent prescription drugs was convicted yesterday of
the some of the most serious charges against him and now faces a
probable life prison term.

Dr. William E. Hurwitz, whose defunct McLean clinic specialized in
treating patients with chronic pain, was found guilty of 50 counts
contained in a 62-count federal indictment. He was acquitted of nine
counts. The five-woman, seven-man jury will continue deliberations
this morning on the three remaining counts.

As the partial verdict was read aloud, Hurwitz' chin sank to his
chest. His $2 million bond was immediately revoked by U.S. District
Judge Leonard Wexler, and the 59-year-old Hurwitz was led out of the
courtroom by U.S. marshals.

The verdict came after four days of closed-door deliberations and a
six-week trial during which prosecutors portrayed Hurwitz as a
reckless physician whose therapies hooked some of his patients on
drugs and led to the death of two of them by drug overdose.
Prosecutors said he prescribed thousands of pills to known drug
abusers who then sold them on the street.

Testifying in his own defense, Hurwitz acknowledged that he prescribed
massive amounts of painkillers to some patients, but insisted he
always did so for sound medical reasons. Prior to the verdict, he
described his prosecution as a "political trial" by federal agencies
who are now pursuing doctors instead of drug dealers.

The jury convicted the doctor of one of the most serious charges
against him - prescribing drugs that caused the death of Linda
Lalmond, who died in a Fairfax County hotel room June 1, 2000, a day
after consuming morphine prescribed and dispensed by the doctor. The
conviction carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison.

The jury has not yet reached a verdict on a second charge of
distribution of drugs resulting in death. It did, however, convict
Hurwitz of two counts of prescribing medications that resulted in
serious bodily injury, convictions that also carry a minimum 20-year
prison term.

The charges against Hurwitz stemmed from a two-year federal
investigation into doctors, pharmacists and patients who allegedly
marketed potent prescription drugs - primarily OxyContin, a widely
abused and highly addictive painkiller. Abuse of the drug has reached
epidemic proportions in Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky,
prosecutors said.

But advocates for patients seeking relief from chronic, unrelenting
pain said the convictions mean that government prosecutors are now
free to reach into decisions that should be left to doctors, patients
and medical regulatory agencies.

Anyone who suffers from chronic pain was convicted today, said Mary
Baluss, director of the Pain Law Initiative. "They will suffer for
years and years."

Siobban Reynolds, director of Pain Relief Network, praised Hurwitz as
a "pioneer and hero" in treating patients who were in severe pain and
couldn't get treatment elsewhere. She said his conviction will cause
doctors to turn away patients in severe pain, especially those who are
very ill, for fear of being arrested.

"Any doctor who encounters a patient in severe pain is going to head
for the hills," she said. "It is no longer prudent for a doctor to
treat someone who is in severe pain and near death. It means that
government power has prevailed over science."

Hurwitz's attorney, Marvin Miller, called the verdict

"There is now no way for anyone to know what the rules are," he said.
"Law enforcement has taken over the practice of medicine."

Hurwitz, a graduate of the Stanford University medical school, earned
a reputation as an unconventional doctor in the use of potent drugs to
combat chronic pain. But he has run afoul of authorities before. He
has been disciplined by medical boards in Virginia and the District of
Columbia for improperly treating pain patients.

His license to practice medicine in Virginia, granted in 1977, was
suspended in 1996. His license was restored in 1998 after undergoing
120 hours of classes on techniques for the treatment of pain.
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