Retired McLean, Virginia, pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was arrested Wednesday morning and sits in jail pending a Monday bail hearing after being indicted on federal charges related to his use of high doses of opioid pain relievers in the course of his medical practice. A 49-count indictment charges the nationally known specialist with drug trafficking resulting in death and serious injury, engaging in a criminal enterprise, conspiracy and health care fraud. The most serious charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Hurwitz is the latest pain doctor to fall victim to an Oxycontin-fueled Justice Department crusade against doctors it considers to be no more than drug dealers. But the doctors' defenders charge that federal prosecutors and DEA agents are ill-qualified to pass judgment on the latest advances in pain management, which include sometimes massive doses of opioids within accepted medical practice.
"Dr. Hurwitz is a legitimate medical doctor with expertise in the area of the management of intractable chronic pain," his attorney, James Hundley, told the Washington Post Thursday." He was doing nothing but providing appropriate medical care. The government has come in and taken a medical issue and attempted to apply horribly twisted logic to it through criminal statutes."
"The indictment and arrests in Virginia demonstrate our commitment to bring to justice all those who traffic in this very dangerous drug," countered Attorney General John Ashcroft in a press release trumpeting the arrest. "We will continue to pursue vigorously physicians, patients and others who are responsible for turning OxyContin from a legitimate painkiller to a vehicle of addiction and death."
US Attorney for Northern Virginia Paul J. McNulty told the Post that Hurwitz was a "major and deadly drug dealer" who dispensed not proper pain relief but "misery and sometimes death." Hurwitz's patients, including some who have spoken to DRCNet in the past, tell a different story. Hurwitz closed his practice last year, telling DRCNet he feared indictment and that he wanted his patients to have time to find alternate caregivers.
The indictment of William Hurwitz, which came late in this week's DRCNet news cycle, is a major development in the conflict between medicine and the Justice Department, but others are occurring as these words are written. Look for extensive DRCNet coverage of the issue next week, and click the following links for some of our previous reporting on Dr. Hurwitz: