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Pain Medicine: Dr. Hurwitz Denied Bail, to Sit in Prison Pending New Trial

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #457)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Nationally-known pain treatment specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was denied bail pending retrial Wednesday. Hurwitz has been in prison since he was convicted in November 2004 on drug trafficking charges over his prescribing of large quantities of opioid pain relievers to patients, some of whom later admitted abusing and/or selling them. Hurwitz' conviction was thrown out on appeal, and he sought his freedom pending a new trial.

Dr. Hurwitz in 1996 (photo courtesy Skip Baker)
Although Hurwitz had posted a $2 million bond to get out of jail after his arrest and complied with all its conditions, US District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, the same judge whose deficient instructions to the jury resulted in the verdict being thrown out, rejected a motion by Hurwitz' attorneys to free him. Judge Wexler said he was concerned Hurwitz might flee.

"Things have changed with respect to flight," Wexler said as he rejected the motion. "A jury has found him guilty of 50 counts... I think there is a risk of flight."

Hurwitz is probably the most prominent physician to be prosecuted in an ongoing federal crackdown on what authorities call prescription drug abuse and the over-prescribing of drugs such as Oxycontin and other pain relievers. His case mobilized more interest and support in the media and the medical community than any of the dozens of other cases of doctors prosecuted in the federal campaign.

He was convicted after Judge Wexler instructed jurors that they could not consider whether Hurwitz acted "in good faith" when prescribing. Hurwitz and his attorneys argued that the "good faith" defense was crucial to proving his innocence because he believed he was helping his patients by prescribing large amounts of pain relievers.

Prosecutors urged that Hurwitz remain jailed pending trial, saying he had reason to flee. "At least one jury found him guilty 50 times over," said Assistant US Attorney Gene Rossi. "He's about 60 years old, and the sentence that was imposed, 25 years, is essentially a life sentence. That is a strong incentive."

But Hurwitz' attorneys said he had not fled when out on bail before and he had a good chance of winning in the new trial. "He faithfully abided by every condition of his release," said defense attorney Lawrence Robbins.

The Robing Room, a web site that allows criminal justice professionals to rate judges, gives Wexler a mediocre 3.5 out of 10, though the sample size (only nine people, mostly criminal defense lawyers) is limited. Among the comments:

"This is one of the most mean spirited individuals I have ever met... He lacks judicial temperament and is not remotely as smart as he thinks he is, plus he does not listen."

"He is, quite simply, a terrible judge... A yeller, a browbeater, a one-sided unabashed prosecution lover... Doesn't pay much attention to legal citations that are clearly relevant procedurally... Mean and nasty, not very intelligent."

"Doesn't know the law and doesn't care."

Read David Borden's letter to Judge Wexler about evident flaws in the trial, sent prior to the original sentencing of Dr. Hurwitz, here.

Get further information about the Hurwitz case on the web site of the Pain Relief Network.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

How can I as a physician continue to prescribe pain killers under government control while an innocent colleague sits in jail? The fact that the population at large continues to tolerate an illegitimate government that continues to abuse of members of my profession obviates my ethical obligation to treat people in pain and thereby endure personal risk of prosecution for acting ethically.

Undoubtedly the illegal drug market will celebrate the new business resulting from the strike., But people need to understand that organized crime, through their manipulation of the legal process, is the actual root of the problem. Seemingly, we are meant to be buying our pain relief from one of their criminal associates on a corner somewhere (as vast numbers of people already do).

I suspect that, in the event of an effective strike, we would shortly find doctors going to jail for NOT prescribing pain medications, but at least that would provide some symmetry and serve to reflect the true absurd nature of a legal system that is nearly totally in the power of organized criminals.

Herb Ruhs, MD

Fri, 10/13/2006 - 1:01pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Pain Medicine:
Dr. Hurwitz Denied Bail, to Sit in Prison Pending New Trial.

The Real problem is the Creation of the DEA (Gestapo/SS)
and it propaganda from the ONDCP. (White House).

Fri, 10/13/2006 - 5:05pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In 2002 I was not given sufficient pain medication in the hospital after major surgery. I seriously considered suing the doctor, especially after reading that one of the techniques used by our government to interrogate Saddam Hussein was "denial of pain medication." It's outrageous that I was subjected to that same treatment (torture) in my local hospital.

Sat, 10/14/2006 - 1:47pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I am sorry to hear of your suffering. OTOH you are not alone. Under-prescribing of pain medications, both in the hospital and as outpatient treatment, is endemic to our so called "health care system" (which is neither healthy, caring or systematic beyond the systematic harvesting of profits exploited from the suffering of others). One thing you can be assured of, the wealthy and well connected do not have these problems having their pain treated.

It is ultimately a political problem, and not a medical one. Any explanation of this problem must go to the root of our hyper-competitive culture's dedication to mutual exploitation for profit and the glorification of heartlessness as a strategy for managing most of our relationships. We live in a technologically advanced but socially very primitive country.

Once, when working at the Rose Bud Indian Hospital (briefly) the nurses came to me one night in tears begging me to prescribe adequate pain medication to an elder who was in the last throws of death from cancer that had invaded her bones. This is about as bad as pain gets. As a pediatrician I had no authority to treat this woman so could not help. In the morning I did ask the physician who was in charge of her care about the under-treatment. In front of all the other doctors he explained that he was concerned about the woman becoming addicted to narcotics. It was transparent that this implausible explanation was disingenuous. It is my firm belief that he was a white racist deliberately practicing his sadistic impulses on this helpless elderly Native woman who he allowed to die in excruciating pain.

That is an extreme example, but it serves to point to a widespread problem. Many, probably most, physicians who under-treat pain are doing so because of understandable, if hard to excuse, reasons. Ignorance. Fear of official persecution, such as has been inflicted on Dr. Hurwitz. Or, probably most commonly, the fear of attracting criticism from other drug warrior physicians, who, though few in number, have an inordinate influence because of the backing of our, so called, "Federal Government" (which is neither an expression of federation, being totalitarian in spirit, nor a government under any conventional meaning of the term, being more akin to a criminal conspiracy).

Again, please accept my condolences for the suffering inflicted on you personally. It was wrong. I hope you are feeling better.


Mon, 10/16/2006 - 8:24pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Unfortunately arrogant judges are far more the rule that the exception. Until they are forced into the realization that they work for us, we do not work for them, this will always be the case. I had been accused of a crime where my presiding judge actually interrogated me from the bench! Perhaps they should be the ones to stand until those of us who are presumed innocent enter the room, and sit level to the accused until they are proven guilty?

Mon, 10/16/2006 - 2:24pm Permalink

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