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 'Good Faith' at Issue in Pain Doctor's [Hurwitz] Appeal 

Larry O’Dell, Associated Press Writer; Richmond Times-Dispatch; 2006-03-17. Posted: 2006-03-20; Modified: 2006-08-29.

Related resources:
The Dr. William Hurwitz Collection  ;  Drug War Journalism and Advocacy archives
See also:
Pain Doctor William Hurwitz to Get New Trial - Drug War Chronicle #450; 2006-08-25
Weighing the Difference Between Treating Pain and Dealing Drugs -
Tina Rosenberg; NYTimes; 2006
Brief of Appellant William Eliot Hurwitz (PDF) - Robbins, Russell, & Taaffe; 2005
War on Doctors/Pain Crisis blog and RSS feed

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - A jury should have been told it could consider whether a doctor acted in good faith in prescribing massive doses of OxyContin and other painkillers for his patients, the physician's lawyer told a federal appeals court Friday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, meeting at the College of William and Mary Law School, heard arguments in the case of prominent pain-management specialist William E. Hurwitz. A ruling is expected in a few weeks.

Hurwitz, who treated hundreds of patients from more than 39 states at his McLean clinic, was convicted in December 2004 of 50 of 62 counts, including conspiracy and drug trafficking resulting in a patient's fatal overdose. He is serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison in Cumberland, Md.

"He's doing OK," Hurwitz's brother, Kenneth Hurwitz of New York, said after the appeals court hearing. "He's confident he's in the right legally and that this conviction will be reversed."

William Hurwitz, 60, frequently prescribed 100 tablets or more of OxyContin for patients - many of them obvious drug addicts and dealers, prosecutors said. One patient was prescribed 1,600 pills a day, according to testimony at Hurwitz's trial.

An FBI agent's affidavit said 21 percent of Hurwitz's patients had criminal records. Prosecutors said Hurwitz's waiting room was at times filled with groggy patients with track marks on their arms from drug abuse.

Defense attorneys contended at trial that Hurwitz meant well but was manipulated by drug-seeking patients. However, U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler's instructions to jurors barred them from considering whether Hurwitz acted in good faith.

Wexler's directive "contravenes 80 years of unbroken precedent" in similar cases, Hurwitz lawyer Lawrence S. Robbins told the appeals court.

"The rules are the same whether he's a bad doctor or Albert Schweitzer," Robbins said.

But federal prosecutor Richard Cooke argued that good faith was not applicable in Hurwitz's case because the doctor acknowledged that he knew he was prescribing to addicts and dealers.

"A doctor who knowingly exceeds accepted medical practice cannot use good faith as a defense," Robbins said.

Hurwitz attracted a national following by prescribing huge doses of opiates for chronic pain sufferers, once touting his unconventional theories on the CBS show "60 Minutes." One of those patients, Linda Lalmond, died within two days after Hurwitz prescribed morphine in doses 40 times higher than anything she had previously received.

Several of Hurwitz's supporters testified at his trial that Hurwitz relieved them of crippling pain that other doctors refused to treat.

"Even if a person is abusing drugs, it doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be treated for pain," Kenneth Hurwitz said Friday. "That's clearly not per se outside the bounds of accepted practice or outside the bounds of the law."

State regulators suspended Hurwitz's medical license several times, including in 1991 and again in 1996, when he was ordered to attend classes to learn how to spot patients trying obtain drugs by scamming the medical system.



Dr. DeLuca's Addiction, Pain, and Public Health Website

Alexander DeLuca, M.D.

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Originally posted: 2006-03-18

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Most recently revised: 2006-08-29
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