HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html VA Pain Doctor's Prison Term Is Cut To 57 Months
Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jul 2007
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2007 The Washington Post Company
Author: Jerry Markon, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


Originally Sentenced to 25 Years, Specialist Did More Good Than Harm,
Judge Says

A prominent pain doctor who received a 25-year prison term three years
ago for drug trafficking was re-sentenced yesterday to less than five
years by a judge who concluded during his retrial that he helped far
more patients than he hurt.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema was a setback
for federal prosecutors, who were seeking a life sentence for William
E. Hurwitz.

Hurwitz, 61, a former pain specialist based in McLean, was a key
target of a far-reaching investigation into doctors, pharmacists and
patients suspected of selling potent and addictive painkillers. He was
convicted twice of trafficking in narcotics, first in 2004, and was
sentenced to 25 years in prison.

An appeals court threw out that verdict last year, saying that
prosecutors had presented "powerful evidence" but that U.S. District
Judge Leonard D. Wexler improperly told jurors they could not consider
whether Hurwitz acted in "good faith" when he prescribed large doses
of medicine. A second jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria
convicted Hurwitz on 16 counts of drug trafficking in April.

He has been in jail for about 2 1/2 years.

The case became a referendum of sorts on a national debate about
whether licensed doctors prescribing legal medication to patients in
chronic pain should be subject to prosecution if their patients abuse
or sell the drugs. Patient advocates portrayed Hurwitz as heroic,
saying that he only tried to help suffering people who had nowhere
else to turn.

Hurwitz, a major figure in the growing field of pain management who
was profiled on "60 Minutes," said he viewed himself the same way as
his supporters. He told Brinkema yesterday that he was part of a "new
enlightenment" of pain doctors and blamed his problems on a small
number of patients. "I was ill-prepared for those who set out to
exploit my practice," he said.

But prosecutors said that Hurwitz prescribed excessive amounts of
Oxycodone and other potentially dangerous narcotics -- in one case,
more than 1,600 pills a day -- to addicts and others, some of whom
sold the medication on the black market. "He crossed the line from a
healer to a dealer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi said at the
hearing yesterday.

Brinkema seemed to lean toward the patient advocate side when she
imposed her 57-month sentence yesterday. Although she said she agreed
that Hurwitz had gone from being a doctor to someone who gave "drugs
to people for illicit means," she said that the "overwhelming
majority" of his patients were legitimate and that Hurwitz had tried
to help them.

When she first took the case, Brinkema said she thought the dosages
that Hurwitz prescribed were "absolutely crazy." But she said defense
witnesses turned her around. "An increasing body of respectable
medical literature and expertise supports those types of high-dosage,
opioid medications," the judge said.

Some of the more than 40 supporters of Hurwitz who packed the
courtroom said they were generally pleased. "I think the judge did her
God-awful best to be fair," said Hurwitz's brother, Ken Hurwitz. "It's
a harsh sentence, but it's vastly more reasonable" than the previous
one, he said.

The first jury convicted Hurwitz on 50 counts, including trafficking
that caused the death of one patient and seriously injured two others.
Jurors acquitted him of nine counts and deadlocked on three.

Before the second jury got the case in April, Brinkema dismissed the
counts involving the patient who died and the two who were seriously
injured. The second jury found Hurwitz guilty on 16 counts and
acquitted him on 17 trafficking counts, and Brinkema dismissed the
remaining 12 counts.

Brinkema's sentence was much lower partly because several of the
dismissed charges would have brought Hurwitz a minimum prison term of
20 years. Brinkema also recalculated federal sentencing guidelines in
ways that lowered the sentence, accepting the defense's argument that
Hurwitz was not completely at fault because his patients had duped
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