Source: The Connection Newspapers
Date: 21 December 2004

McLean Pain Doctor Sent to Prison

Hurwitz convicted on 50 counts.
By Ken Moore

picture of Dr William E Hurwitz

Dr. William E. Hurwitz waited five days for the U.S. District Court jury to reach its verdict after his six-week trial. At 4:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 15, senior judge Leonard D. Wexler told the McLean pain doctor to rise and face the jury.

Hurwitz was convicted of 50 of 62 counts against him, including conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances, drug trafficking resulting in serious bodily injury and death, and drug trafficking distributions.

Wexler revoked Hurwitz’s $2 million bond, and he was taken into custody. Sixteen hours later, Hurwitz returned from his first night in Alexandria jail while the jury resumed deliberations on three final counts against him.

This time, Hurwitz's 24-year-old daughter, his ex-wife and mother sat in the first row behind the defendant's table. U.S. marshals wouldn't permit Hurwitz to greet his McLean family, and he could only watch as his daughter bowed her head and silently wept. Hurwitz, 59, who was once featured on "60 Minutes" and has received numerous awards for his treatment of patients with chronic pain, shook his head.

"I don't give up hope that we can resolve the ideas regarding the issues in this case, short of my spending the rest of my life in jail," Hurwitz said Monday, Dec. 13, during the jury's third day of deliberation. "I am performing a public service even being here. It's brought to a head numerous issues that need to be resolved."

The jury, which found Hurwitz not guilty of engaging in continuing criminal enterprise and health-care fraud, couldn't reach consensus on the final three counts. But Hurwitz, who will be sentenced in February or March for the 50 counts on which the jury returned a guilty verdict, faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in jail.

ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEYS Eugene Rossi and Mark Lytle introduced 63 witnesses to testify against Hurwitz. They convinced the jury that Hurwitz continued to prescribe high doses of addictive and highly sought opioid narcotics to patients he knew were addicted, were selling the pills he prescribed, or both. Approximately 15 former patients, convicted of felony offenses, testified; many said they made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling portions of Hurwitz's prescriptions, including those for OxyContin.

Although Rossi and Lytle didn't dispute the care Hurwitz provided to some of his patients with chronic pain, they said Hurwitz ignored obvious warning signs that demonstrated that some patients were abusing and diverting his prescriptions.

"The huge amount of pills [prescribed] were just obscene. … They sent shock waves across our community," Rossi said, during closing arguments. "Those prescriptions caused havoc and harm."

HURWITZ'S ATTORNEYS will appeal the decision by the Feb. 1 deadline set by Wexler. They tried to show the jury that opioid therapy is an evolving science — "still struggling with its own protocols," according to Patrick Hallinan, — and that Hurwitz was one of the few doctors in the country prepared to prescribe enough medication to relieve the unrelenting and debilitating pain suffered by his patients.

They called their client a courageous, compassionate doctor who was duped by a small percentage of his patients who exaggerated their pain and sold parts of their prescriptions. When Hurwitz testified, he called abrupt stoppage of prescriptions tantamount to torture, even when patients were addicted.

"There's no place a doctor can go to find out what is or what is not permitted," said Hurwitz's attorney, Marvin Miller, after the jury's verdict.

THE TRIAL was closely watched by advocates for patients with chronic pain, who say that the prosecution of doctors will force millions of people to suffer, as other doctors around the country refuse to take the risk of prescribing opioid therapy.

"The easy answer is to just not get involved," Hurwitz said, while the jury deliberated. "People don't go into medicine to avoid risk.They go into medicine to help people and confront risk. "My instinct was to treat and to take the risk and try to help people," he said.

Hurwitz's attorneys requested that he be allowed to stay in the Alexandria Detention Center so they can work with him on their appeal. Wexler recommended this, but said, location is ultimately for marshals to decide.

At 10:55 a.m. last Thursday, marshals led Hurwitz back to jail. His family could only watch as he blew them a kiss.

* * *

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