News of the Day ... in Perspective4/15/2005
Virtual Life Sentence for Pain Doctor, Death Sentence for Patients
(Report filed by AAPS Policy & Public Affairs Counsel, Kathryn Serkes, who was in the courtroom)
With the words, “I don’t feel sorry for you – you were one of the chosen ones” a federal judge sentenced Virginia pain management doctor, William Hurwitz, M.D. to four 25-year sentences, forty-six 15-year sentences, and more than $1 million in fines for prescribing legal painkillers in a northern Virginia courtroom on Thursday, April 14. The sentences are to run concurrently, so Dr. Hurwitz will be eligible for release at age 84.
Several of Dr. Hurwitz’s patients had pleaded for leniency, tearfully explaining how they were alive today because of his compassionate, thorough care. In rebuttal, the prosecution called a self-proclaimed drug addict who traveled all the way from Detroit to con Dr. Hurwitz, and then blamed the doctor for feeding his addiction, as well as surviving family members of patients who had died during Dr. Hurwitz’s care.
During the sentencing, Judge Wexler read an excerpt from a letter from a pain specialist in Florida who had written in support of Dr. Hurwitz: “Am I at risk too – because I’ve been fooled by patients?” Judge Wexler said, “My answer to the good doctor is that an honest doctor has no reason to be afraid.” (This was probably the same false reassurance given to Dr. Hurwitz from the Virginia medical board when they reinstated his license.) But then the judge went on to say that Dr. Hurwitz deserved his harsh sentence exactly because it “would impact across the medical community.”
Of legal concern is that the judge found the doctor guilty of obstruction of justice, a charge which increased the level of his sentencing from a 38- to a 40-level, tacking on an additional five years. The judge found that Dr. Hurwitz had obstructed justice by his repeated lies, a conclusion he reach by listening to audio tapes recorded by informant patients, that had never been admitted into the trial by either the prosecution or defense. Defense attorney Marv Miller also pointed out that in a previous case, a cocaine dealer was NOT found to have obstructed justice, even though on the stand he repeatedly denied ever selling drugs. While Dr. Hurwitz repeatedly stated that he believed he had done nothing wrong, he never denied writing the prescriptions in question. This is another example of the Martha Stewart prosecution in which simple denial of guilt is transformed into obstruction of justice.
Dr. Hurwitz’s wife, who met him during his Peace Corps service, told of how he repeatedly treated patients for free, even bringing patients to their home for convalescent care when they could not afford nursing. She told how he became concerned when a patient failed to keep an appointment, went to her home and carried her in his arms to his car to drive her to the hospital. She explained that he treated patients with addiction problems because he “believed that with love and encouragement he could change people.”
As Dr. Hurwitz was lead out of the courtroom, his adopted daughter’s soft voice was heard from the back of the courtroom “Bye Daddy,” even as the U.S. Attorney personnel hustled out to convene a press conference next door with DEA administrator, Karen Tandy. That demonstration concluded with more reassurance to doctors from Ms. Tandy that they have nothing to fear in a desperate attempt to stop the ripple effect from turning into a tsunami.
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