Pubdate: Tue, 21 Dec 2004
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2004 The Washington Post Company
Author: Jerry Markon, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


Convicted Physician Prescribed 'Astounding' Amounts of Drugs, Man Says

The foreman of the jury that convicted prominent pain doctor William
E. Hurwitz on drug charges described him yesterday as a "sloppy"
physician who prescribed enormous amounts of dangerous narcotics that
went "beyond the bounds of reason."

"The dosages were just astounding," foreman Ralph Craft said of
testimony that Hurwitz prescribed 1,600 pills a day to one patient and
that his dosages caused the deaths of several patients and seriously
injured others.

"I'm not an expert, but I do know that under the Hippocratic oath, the
first duty of a doctor is do no harm, and it seemed a lot of Dr.
Hurwitz's patients were harmed much more than they were helped," Craft

Although Hurwitz struck jurors as intelligent and articulate and did
try to help some patients, Craft said he seemed "a bit cavalier"
toward many who were in chronic pain. "He ramped up and ramped up the
prescriptions very quickly," Craft said. "This is stuff that can kill
people. He should have been extra careful."

The 12-member jury convicted Hurwitz last week on 50 drug-trafficking
counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and
trafficking resulting in death and serious injury. Jurors acquitted
him of nine counts and deadlocked on the final three in the 62-count
indictment before the judge declared a mistrial on those three counts.

Hurwitz, 59, who practiced in McLean until 2002 and was a major figure
in a national movement to treat patients with chronic pain, faces up
to life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

Prosecutors accused Hurwitz of prescribing excessive amounts of
OxyContin and other painkillers to addicts and drug dealers, some of
whom then sold the medication on a lucrative black market. The
verdicts culminated a three-year investigation into doctors,
pharmacists and patients suspected of selling potent narcotics and
fueling an epidemic that ravaged Appalachia and triggered scores of
other crimes.

Advocates for patients with chronic pain, many of whom attended the
six-week trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, decried the
verdict. They predicted, along with defense attorneys, that many of
the estimated 30 percent of Americans suffering from chronic pain
would now be left untreated by doctors afraid of going to jail.

Craft expressed skepticism about that viewpoint yesterday. "Certainly,
the legitimate doctors out there don't prescribe anywhere close to
what Hurwitz did," he said. "I would guess that legitimate doctors
would not be threatened by this case."

Other jurors declined to comment, did not return telephone calls or
would not detail the reasons for the verdict. But several said the
government put on a strong case. "The evidence was overwhelming, and
the verdict speaks for itself," juror Carolyn Keller said.

Siobhan Reynolds, president of the New York-based Pain Relief Network,
said the jury's perspective was understandable because defense
attorneys were not allowed to call as witnesses most of the several
dozen patients who would have testified that Hurwitz's dosages saved
their lives.

"I believe this jury was duped," said Reynolds, who last week called
Hurwitz "a hero and a medical pioneer."

Defense attorney Marvin D. Miller echoed that point. "The government
was allowed to present an overwhelming case, and we were not," said
Miller, who plans to take up the issue on appeal.

Craft did question one key premise of the government's case: that
Hurwitz not only knew that some patients were selling the drugs he
prescribed but that he orchestrated the operation. "No, he wasn't
running a criminal enterprise," Craft said, adding that he felt that
some of Hurwitz's patients played more important roles.

"While I respect this juror's opinion," U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty
said, "Dr. Hurwitz was convicted of multiple drug-trafficking
violations because he knew that many of his patients were abusing or
selling prescription drugs."
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