The Accidental Drug Trafficker

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This week lawyers for Virginia pain doctor William Hurwitz, who was sentenced last spring to 25 years in federal prison for drug trafficking, filed an appeal brief that explains why physicians (and patients) throughout the country should be concerned about the precedent set by this case. The most important argument for overturning his conviction is that the prosecutors did not prove he knowingly violated the Controlled Substances Act. Instead they showed that some of his patients faked or exaggerated their pain to get narcotics they sold on the black market. The prosecutors also presented testimony from a pain specialist who said Hurwitz's narcotic prescriptions for legitimate patients were excessive--testimony that was contradicted by other expert witnesses. The Justice Department argued that it did not matter whether Hurwitz prescribed narcotics in a good-faith effort to treat his patients' pain, because he was operating outside the bounds of legitimate medicine, whether he realized it or not. This argument, which was accepted by the judge, influenced the admission of evidence, and shaped the jury instructions, turns the DEA and the Justice Department into a national medical board that can second-guess doctors' prescription decisions and impose heavy criminal penalties for those it considers inappropriate. Whatever they may think of Hurwitz's practice, his colleagues should be worried.

NEXT: They're Tryin' to Wash Us Away

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  1. My modest proposal to stop this sort of thing dead in it's tracks: Doctors should not prescribe any pain meds for DEA agents anywhere anytime for any reason, including when they're hospitalized. "Sorry, too profesionally risky for me to prescribe narcotics for you. Here's an aspirin."

    Also apply this policy to their families.

    Consider expanding policy to US Attorneys, FBI, and of course their families.

  2. Let's keep going on this: That prosecutor's doctor should immediately refuse to see him ever again for any purpose. Good luck finding a family doctor willing to work with such a predatory mine field.

  3. My idea is only slightly less Machiavellian than Tonio's, but I wonder if the precedent set by this case could have positive long-term consequences if it alerts the medical profession en masse to the dangers of the drug war. Along with the police, doctors have helped perpetuate drug prohibition through their perceived credibility as authority figures in support of it. Maybe, just maybe, they'll finally come over to our side.

  4. "My modest proposal to stop this sort of thing dead in it's tracks: Doctors should not prescribe any pain meds for DEA agents anywhere anytime for any reason, including when they're hospitalized. "Sorry, too profesionally risky for me to prescribe narcotics for you. Here's an aspirin."

    Also apply this policy to their families.

    Consider expanding policy to US Attorneys, FBI, and of course their families."

    Make that their EXTENDED families. "Oh, I'm sorry, but your fifth cousin thrice removed is a federal prosecutor, so I can't prescribe you pain pills."

    We'll see how long this lasts when the assholes complicit in this (i.e. 90% of the American population) feels the effects first hand.

  5. Why even stop there? No narcotics for any politician and their families, federal, state, or local. Once you got their attention, they can reel in their attack dogs.

  6. I know we've beaten this point to death before, but I'm still wrapping my mind around it..

    25 FUCKING YEARS?!

    The guy would've gotten less for raping a schoolbus full of kids and then rolling it off a cliff.

  7. can i challenge the premise of why we even need the medication that doctors prescribe in the first place? look at med mj - why? a command and control network to regulate a wild weed? while everybody is crying about the cost of the iraq fiasco - how about ending the drug war against the american people and finding something productive to do with all the rule enforcement time freed up.

  8. It will be interesting to watch and see how the drug laws change and if competition for prescription drugs will finally drive down the prices.
    JC Whitney

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