HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pain Doctor Is Guilty of Drug Trafficking
Pubdate: Sat, 28 Apr 2007
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: B05
Copyright: 2007 The Washington Post Company
Author: Jerry Markon, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Doctor Hurwitz)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


In Retrial, Physician Convicted Again of Prescribing Large Quantities 
of Narcotics

A prominent pain doctor was convicted yesterday for the second time 
of trafficking in narcotics, handing prosecutors another victory in a 
nationwide debate over the prescribing of dangerous narcotics to 
patients who may abuse or sell the medication.

Federal jurors in Alexandria found William E. Hurwitz guilty of 16 
counts of drug trafficking, determining that he prescribed massive 
quantities of medicine to patients in chronic pain. The 12-member 
jury acquitted Hurwitz on 17 other trafficking counts, but Hurwitz 
faces up to 20 years in prison for each count on which he was 
convicted. He will be sentenced July 13.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema dismissed the remaining 12 
counts, saying she did not want jurors to have to come back Wednesday 
to resume deliberations, prosecutors said. The jury would have been 
unable to deliberate sooner than that because a juror had travel plans.

The verdict marked perhaps the final step in the long legal and 
medical odyssey of Hurwitz, a major figure in the growing field of 
pain management who was once profiled on "60 Minutes." He was 
convicted on similar charges in U.S. District Court in 2004, but an 
appeals court threw out that verdict. Yesterday's conviction came 
after a retrial.

In the first trial, jurors convicted Hurwitz on 50 counts -- 
including trafficking that caused the death of one patient and 
seriously injured two others. They acquitted him of nine counts and 
deadlocked on the final three in a 62-count indictment.

Hurwitz was sentenced to 25 years in prison. But the U.S. Court of 
Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned that verdict last year and 
granted Hurwitz a new trial. A three-judge panel ruled that 
prosecutors had presented "powerful evidence" but that U.S. District 
Judge Leonard D. Wexler improperly told jurors that they could not 
consider whether Hurwitz acted in "good faith" when he prescribed the 
large doses of medicine.

Hurwitz became a symbol in a nationwide debate as cancer patients and 
others in chronic pain became increasingly vocal about access to 
successful treatment.

Advocates for patients in chronic pain have portrayed him as a heroic 
figure, prescribing legal drugs to help suffering patients who have 
nowhere else to turn. They have criticized the government, saying it 
criminalized medical decisions that should be left to doctors.

But prosecutors contended that Hurwitz prescribed excessive amounts 
of Oxycodone and other dangerous narcotics -- in one instance more 
than 1,600 pills a day -- to addicts and others, some of whom then 
sold the medication on a lucrative black market.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said the case "is not about the lawful 
practice of medicine . . . but rather about the unlawful drug 
trafficking of pain medication. Drug traffickers come in all shapes 
and sizes. This one just happened to wear a white coat and be a doctor."

Richard Sauber, a lawyer for Hurwitz, said defense attorneys are 
"disappointed in the verdict. We think that Dr. Hurwitz was a doctor 
first and foremost and not a drug dealer." He added that Hurwitz 
"saved a number of lives."

Sauber said he did not know whether the defense would appeal.

Last week, Brinkema dismissed the counts involving the patient who 
died and the two who were seriously injured, leaving 45 counts for 
the jury to decide.

During the four-week retrial, prosecutors argued that Hurwitz was a 
common drug dealer whose McLean waiting room was filled with sleeping 
and incoherent patients with track marks on their arms. The 
prosecution presented 41 witnesses, including 12 former patients who 
had been convicted of drug crimes.

"He crossed the line from a healer to a dealer," Assistant U.S. 
Attorney Gene Rossi told the jury in closing arguments April 18.

Defense lawyers presented testimony from 10 former patients of 
Hurwitz. The defense portrayed him as a medical pioneer, a caring and 
courageous doctor who just wanted to help people in unbearable pain.
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