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Pain Medicine: Dr. Hurwitz Convicted of 16 Counts in Retrial

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #484)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Prominent Northern Virginia pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was convicted last Friday on 16 counts of drug trafficking after a jury for the second time decided that he had overstepped the bounds of legitimate medical practice in prescribing large doses of opioid pain relievers to patients. Hurwitz' original conviction was overturned on appeal, and supporters hoped he would walk free after his second trial.

But the 12-member jury instead found him guilty on the 16 counts, not guilty on 17 others, and presiding Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed the remaining 12 counts, saying she did not want jurors to have to come back and deliberate further. Brinkema had earlier dismissed the most serious charges against Hurwitz -- that his prescribing had caused the death of a patient and injury to two others.

Brinkema's dismissal of the remaining counts irked prosecutor Arthur Rossi, who behaved like a sore winner after managing to run up enough convictions against Hurwitz to send him to prison for centuries. Although he could be sentenced to time served,
he could also get up to 20 years in prison on each count. He has been jailed since he was originally found guilty in November 2004.

Still, although Hurwitz and his defense team would be hard-pressed to claim victory, he is in a substantially better position than after his first conviction. In his first trial, Hurwitz was found guilty of 50 of 62 felony counts, including causing the death of one patient and injury to two others. He was sentenced to 25 years by Judge Leonard Wexler, five more than the mandatory minimum he faced for the patient death. In the current case, the number of convictions against him has shrunk dramatically, the counts of patient death and injury were dismissed, and while he theoretically faces up to 320 years in prison, none of the counts carry a mandatory minimum sentence.

He may also fare better before Judge Brinkema, who has demonstrated fairness from the bench. That's in contrast to the judge in his original trial, the irascible Leonard Wexler, whose performance during the first Hurwitz trial raised serious questions about his fairness and objectivity.

While prosecutors portrayed Hurwitz as little more than a drug dealer, pain patients and their advocates saw him as a brave and heroic figure who prescribed necessary drugs for patients with nowhere else to turn.

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

But 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."

New York Times science reporter John Tierney, who has covered the trial in great detail on his TierneyLab blog, spoke with several jurors after the verdict was announced and reported that "they said that the jury considered Dr. William Hurwitz to be a doctor dedicated to treating pain who didn't intentionally prescribe drugs to be resold or abused. They said he didn't appear to benefit financially from his patients' drug dealing and that he wasn't what they considered a conventional drug trafficker."

Then why did they find him guilty of "knowingly and intentionally" distributing drugs "outside the bounds of medical practice" and engaging in drug trafficking "as conventionally understood"? Tierney asked. "After attending the trial and talking to the jurors, I can suggest two possible answers: 1. The jurors were confused by the law. 2. The law is an ass (to quote Mr. Bumble from 'Oliver Twist')."

The law may be an ass, but it's enough to send Dr. Hurwitz to prison for the rest of his life. The verdict is a victory for federal prosecutors in their war on what they regard as excessive prescribing of pain medication. Chronic pain patients are unlikely to be as pleased.

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)

I think this conviction is a good indicator of the kind of sentiments still held about drug trafficking by the public. That a doctor can be blamed for a systemic issue with the manufacture and distrobution of high-potency opiods like Oxycontin is indicative of the fact that surely street dealers will be blamed for a systemic issue with drug policy itself for a very long time. If our doctors can be criminalized and demonized by the media and judicial system for trying to alleviate people's pain, drug warriors will continue to have no problem demonizing addicts and wholesalers for trying to feed their addictions and/or their families.

What's especially sad is that doctors are being tried for distributing prescription pain medication while an epidemic of the abuse of these medications proliferates among our nation's youth. These kids think Oxycontin and the like are no stronger than a valium and such - when they are literally becoming as addicted to the pills as any heroin addict. But of course instead of spending money telling kids about Oxycontin in health class - we're hanging doctors from their own hyppocratic oath.

Graham Peterson
Chicago, IL
[email protected]

Fri, 05/04/2007 - 7:57pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

this isn`t fair because unless you`ve been there the amounts sound unreal, but if your a pain patient and and know
what it really takes to have half a life instead of just laying in bed crying for years . There wasn`t one pain patient on the jury . None of us could do it and were in a catch 22, we can`t even speak out for frear fof reprisals.

Tue, 05/08/2007 - 2:12am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

What the hell can you say about this? "A drug dealer in a white coat?" The real criminals are the federal attorneys.

Sooner or later, we all have to ask ourselves: "Can I live in this goddamn country?" It's a personal decision, one many may not be able to even consider. But I believe the Constitution is Kaput. The "interpreted and spun" talking-points that are left after 35 years of WOD attack and insider manipulation (The current Supes) have left us with a soaking-wet piece of toilet-paper where once existed one of humanity's greatest achievements. The Constitution is dead.

I don't know anything about getting into one of the "Western Democracies," but I do know Canada is closed to those of us with a record. I can't even get in to fish because of misdemeanors that happened in the Seventies. Otherwise, I would ex-patriate to Canada. Anybody have any special knowledge on this for Canada or any other free country?

9-11 was the straw that broke the camel's back. Now the bastards are tearing-up what's left of the Constitution for "our own good" and our precious "safety." It's carte blanc for the jackbooted yahoos. My wife got stopped the other day...on her bicycle. That's right, she had a small bag of groceries tied on the carrier and this cop wanted to "find out what that is." My wife, God bless her, doan play dat shit. This clown had the knee-high boots like the Massachusetts troopers wear with his black pants tucked-in. Black sweatshirt, sleeves rolled-up, badge around his neck on a chain, - accosting my tiny but fiesty wife. She gave him "what for." "What kind of a uniform is that? How do I know you're a cop when you're dressed like that? - Since when is riding a bicycle cause for suspicion?" Stuff like that. He got hot too. But she had the upper hand. What was he gonna do? - go back to the station with this little broad busting her for biking?

Anyways, I think we are in the same position Germany was in '38. Do I get out while I can or stay here and watch my beloved country and Constitution taken over by these bastards. The Evangelicals, back in the eighties and nineties, said they were gonna over-run the body politic and they have done just that. They have taken over like an outlaw biker club would take over a secluded tavern in one of those terrible old B movies.

Hurwitz is still my hero but I don't see how he's ever going to get justice. He's a political prisoner now, a Sakharov. We must'nt let him be forgotten.

Sorry for such a long and negative post but I had to get this off my chest.

Tue, 05/08/2007 - 8:55am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Our Government is no longer a Constitutional Republic but a full fledged fascist Police State.

Hurwitz is being persecuted for practicing medicine and prescribing medication that our own government does not want prescribed because millions of people would then be able to obtain pain relief forcing the government and insurance providers to pay for those medications.

There never were any drug laws on the books until prohibition was repealed as it should have been. Without getting into a history lesson, our political leaders have takes away our freedom and liberties incrementally since the late 1920's.There is nothing in our constitution giving the federal government any right to restrict our intake of drugs or any other substance. The people were never consulted and the constitution never amended.

For those of you that are not chronic pain patients, you should know that under the HIPPA Act, the Federal Government now has the ability to track anything you do in a medical office, track your RX's, and soon will be dictating what kind of treatments or procedures you be able to obtain.

They can force you to take a urine test just to get a "legal" pain medication and have taken your 1st, 4th,and 5th amendment rights away just to stay in a chronic pain program (if you can find one) that will even treat you.Everything that you talk about with your doctor is now computerized and available to law enforcement, insurance companies, or any other government bureaucrats that wants to review your information.

Simply put Doctor confidentiality is gone thanks to Congress and the President.

I know, I am a chronic pain patient that has seen how doctors are no longer practicing medicine but are now agents for the DEA and Law Enforcement.You are treated as a drug addict not a patient in pain. Your photo is taken, fingerprinted, pills counted, random piss tests, random surprise blood tests and ridiculed by mostly ignorant nurses that have been brainwashed in thinking they are mini me DEA agents.

Sat, 04/19/2008 - 3:25pm Permalink

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