ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- A prominent pain-management
doctor accused of prescribing high doses of drugs such as morphine and OxyContin
to patients went on trial for a second time Monday.
William E. Hurwitz, 61, was convicted in 2004 of drug trafficking, among other
charges, and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but a federal appeals court last
year tossed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
The appeals court ruled unanimously that the trial judge had improperly barred
the jury from considering whether Hurwitz was acting in good faith.
In the new trial in U.S. District Court, Hurwitz is facing one count of
conspiracy and 49 drug-trafficking counts, including one count of drug
trafficking resulting in death.
In opening statements Monday, prosecutors said Hurwitz prescribed massive
amounts of drugs to addicts and patients who were obviously selling their
medications on the street. The defense said he was a physician who freed his
patients from a life of debilitating pain.
Hurwitz, whose pain clinic drew patients from more than 39 states, was an
aggressive advocate of high-dose opiate treatment for patients, once touting his
theories on ''60 Minutes.'' He become a hero to patient advocates who believe
that doctors routinely under-treat chronic pain.
Prosecutors say his waiting room was littered with stoned, sleeping patients
with track marks on their arms. One patient had a prescription for up to 1,600
pills a day. Another patient died within two days of entering Hurwitz's care
after he prescribed morphine in doses 40 times higher than anything she had
Sauber acknowledged that some patients may have scammed Hurwitz, but said
Hurwitz's general instinct to trust patients was correct.
Prosecutors said Hurwitz had been put on notice multiple times that his methods
were outside the bounds of legitimate medicine. His medical license was
suspended twice, first in 1991 and again in 1996, and he was ordered to take
classes on weeding out addicts and dealers posing as patients.
OxyContin was initially hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of severe
chronic pain when it was introduced in 1996. But the drug has become a problem
in recent years after abusers discovered that crushing the time-release tablets
and snorting or injecting the powder yields an immediate, heroin-like high.