Drug Policy

Second Hurwitz Trial

|

The Drug Policy Alliance reports that the retrial of Virginia pain doctor William Hurwitz is scheduled to begin today. The first time around, Hurwitz was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. But last August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned his conviction, finding that the judge had erred by refusing to let the jury consider whether Hurwitz had acted in good faith when prescribing painkillers to his patients, some of whom turned out to be addicts and/or drug dealers. The case is being watched closely by physicians, who were alarmed by the government's position that trusting your patients too much is a felony, regardless of intent, and by pain patients, who suffer whenever the government discourages doctors from prescribing narcotics. 

NEXT: The Welch Effect

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The case is being watched closely by physicians, who were alarmed by the government’s position that trusting your patients too much is a felony, regardless of intent, and by pain patients, who suffer whenever the government disourages doctors from prescribing narcotics.

    I believe that strict liabliity applies to doctors and pharmacists in these cases, which is unfair but the way it is. I suppose it is to make doctors more cautious when prescribing dangerous drugs.

  2. “Strict liability” for criminal cases is almost unheard of – and it should be.

  3. Ramon,

    What, you prefer due process to winning the War on Drugs?? What are you, some sort of Commie?

  4. What is it that motivates the drug warriors to push this case? Why wouldn’t they just quietly walk away after the conviction was overturned?

    The only thing I can think of is a “We are the wrath of god. Anybody that doesn’t play ball with us goes away for a long long time” mentality. The other thing that occurs to me, is that they’re complete moon-bat fanatics.

  5. Warren,

    Clearly, they know the correct answer to the question, “What is best in life?”

  6. What we should do is to ban all of these adictive painkillers, it would avoid this type of legal issue in the future.

  7. What we should do is to ban all of these adictive painkillers, it would avoid this type of legal issue in the future.

    Alternately, they should only available to those that are terminally ill.

  8. Don’t do the crime if you doesn’t want to do the time, period, end of discussion.

  9. “Strict liability” for criminal cases is almost unheard of – and it should be.

    It should be the case for all crimes. We have got to get more people into prison, we have gone from a manufacturing based economy, to a service economy, and we are now making the transition to a prison based economy.

  10. Alternately, they should only available to those that are terminally ill.

    Or, they could be for sale to any adult that wants to buy them.

  11. Ingestion by any means of any substance should be strictly regulated. Unauthorized mastication, inhalation, imbibification, or absorbtion of any kind should be a Class XXX Felony, punishable by exile to the Phantom Zone.

  12. Make that “absorption”.

    “Imbibification”, however, is correct-like.

  13. What is it that motivates the drug warriors to push this case? Why wouldn’t they just quietly walk away after the conviction was overturned?

    Because people want polititions that are tough on crime, in order to keep the children safe.

  14. Alternately, they should only available to those that are terminally ill.

    Or, they could be for sale to any adult that wants to buy them.

    Or perhaps nobody should have them, suffering is good for the soul.

  15. You people are nutcases.

    Dr. Hurwitz is without a doubt the most caring doctor I have ever been to, and I have been to many. He is no criminal. His waiting room was never filled with people passed out like I have read. But beyond that, for the people who suggest that pain meds should be banned outright: that will only make the problem 1000x worse. It will create an enormous black market for pain meds. Some people – people who have had failed back surgeries – or with chronic headaches – for example – simply cannot function normally without pain medications. Doctors like Dr. Hurwitz are all that people like this have. Take away these doctors and these medications and innocent people like this, people who never asked to be in pain in the first place – will have no choice but to live in agony or die. Is that what you people want?

  16. Is that what you people want?

    No, of course not, but how do we make a good tradeoff between an individuals ‘right’ to be pain free vs societies right to be safe from dangerous drugs? It may be that some individuals must suffer for the greater good of society. Also, suffering is good for the soul, if Jesus were alive today he would want us all to suffer like he did.

  17. finding that the judge had erred by refusing to let the jury consider whether Hurwitz had acted in good faith when prescribing painkillers to his patients,

    Then there’s the whole “the jury only gets told what the prosecution wants it to know” issue.

    [barf]

  18. Query: Is the question about whether a confession may have been compelled one that shouldn’t be decided by a jury? I mean, the whole thing about self-incrimination, etc. in the Constitution has a lot to do with the reliability of such confessions, not just our collective distaste for such procedures. The more these things happen out of sight, with no accountability, the more likely we are to see an expansion of such activities. If I can beat a confession out of someone and my action can remain concealed, why not do it? It’ll help my conviction rate, that’s for sure.

    At least we’re only torturing (or “torturing”) terrorists. Right?

  19. sick and tired, what you may have missed is that most of the comments were tongue-in-cheek, including Pro Libertate, Fred, and (I am sure) Juanita’s and Jane’s. joe, I dunno, since that doesn’t seem to really be joe. If you know what I mean.

  20. I just want to wish Dr. Hurwitz the best of luck. Ideally, he shouldn’t even be facing this carge, but as long as these drug laws are in effect, thhey harm as few as possible.

  21. We have got to get more people into prison, we have gone from a manufacturing based economy, to a service economy, and we are now making the transition to a prison based economy.

    We laugh because it’s funny…and we laugh because it’s true.

  22. While I wish Billy luck, I doubt he will win. It is too easy for the prosecution to get a jury of medically untrained individuals believing that anyone who would prescribe opiods is a drug dealer. It is unfortunate that due to the present molestation of the legal bounds of the CSA during the Bush Administration, medical judgements are being made by lawyers and not physicians.

  23. This is not tongue-in-cheek. I have experienced terrible, continuing pain. Percocet made it possible for me to get thru the day. If my Dr. was taking a chance prescribing the drug, all I can say is that I am grateful and that there is something seriously wrong with a Government that threatens Drs. If cops have time on their hands they should go after corrupt politicians who benefit from the War On Drugs. Better yet, we should throw out the War on Drugs, like we threw out Prohibition. Neither one has worked. They both did more harm than good.

  24. I have experienced terrible, continuing pain.

    I wish you the best of luck getting relief.

  25. I’m just glad the doctors who prescribed the Anna Nicole pharmacy were treated the same way…
    JMR

  26. You people that want to ban opiate drugs or think that this country needs more control over them do not have or do not know anyone with chronic pain. Opiate treatments at this time are the best working and safest. What needs to be done is to find a proper treatment for addicts and repair this countries criminal system. Illegal drugs and the people who use them are the problem. Not Chronic pain suffers or the Doctors that treat them. Yes some addicts do abuse the medical system, but that is no reason to treat doctors like criminals!!!!

  27. I suffer from chronic pain (migraine and cluster headaches) too – which is why I personally know Dr. Hurwitz. They started when I was a sophomore in college in 1988, and from that time until the spring of 2000 when I finally had come to the end of my rope, this is what happened: I missed 2 semesters of undergraduate college; 2 semesters of graduate school; I was unable to work; I watched all of my friends and classmates get married and get great jobs while I existed in agony. Since the pain meds my neurologist prescribed covered 4 or 5 days worth of headaches, the rest of the month I would be holed up in my apartment 24/7, the only relief would be to sit under a hot shower and let the water hit me in the eye. I had been to many different neurologists – they all eventually grew frustrated that the new “wonder drugs” like imitrex and zomig didnt work on me. Anyway winter of 2000 I was literally at the end of my rope – I dont think I would be alive today if it wasnt for Dr. Hurwitz. But I decided to pick myself up off of the floor one more time; I made an appointment with Dr. Hurwitz, spent a week in Virginia, and right away mylife turned completely around. I was no longer a slave to my pain. I went back to graduate school and got a 2nd Masters degree – and where before I missed 4semesters of college due to headaches – this time I missed maybe 1 class due to a headache. I am working full time and have been since I graduated. All because of Dr. H. I remember about 9 months after I became his patient, I had a real bad headache, and called him late in the afternoon, and he could tell I was sick….I kid you not he called me 3x that night…he was clearly at some kind of social event – maybe a party or at dinner – but he kept calling me to see if I was feeling better. My parents met him several times too – and feel the same way. This whole thing is such a travesty it isnt funny. The story I just told – of him giving me my life back – was repeated by every one of his patients, except for the few criminals who targeted him. Doctors dont have crystal balls. The minute you leave their office, thats it, they dont know what you are doing and cant be expected to. Just remember – every one of you – even those in perfect health – is just one slip or fall or car accident away from being in unrelenting chronic pain like me. You want to know what Ive really always wondered – when John Ashcroft was still AG and leading this witch hunt – and had his galbladder attack – do you think they deprived him of opiates?????

  28. “What is it that motivates the drug warriors to push this case? Why wouldn’t they just quietly walk away after the conviction was overturned?”

    Because they need to prove they were right the first time.

  29. Who do you want writing your prescriptions? Your doctor or the police?

  30. –even those in perfect health – is just one slip or fall or car accident away from being in unrelenting chronic pain like me.–

    Exactly! Six years ago I woke up from neck surgery and my life has been a nightmare of unrelenting, unbearable pain ever since. It will be this way for the rest of my life thanks to a neurosurgeon who cut things that should have never been cut. Should I live in pain so unbearable I wanted my arm amputated to alleviate some of the pain? No one knows what living with pain so intensely unbearable is like, unless it happens to you. You reach a point that if the doctors can’t alleviate some of the pain, suicide is the ONLY other option available. Only those of us who have lived with this type of pain know how important the work of doctors like Dr. H is. I didn’t ask for this to happen to me. I still live in an immense amount of pain every second of every day, but at least my pain is at a level I can tolerate on a daily basis. People think doctors just hand out these medications willy nilly. You have no idea how many other painful, barbaric procedures I and others have endured trying to alleviate our debilitating chronic pain. I am thankful each day to my doctor for saving my life. If not for opiate therapy I would not be here. Using large doses of opiate medications does not make a person a junkie. It only makes life bearable. It doesn’t make us pain free by a long shot. It simply makes life bearable.

    What’s next? Will the DEA start prescribing medications? Will the DEA start doing surgery? How far are you willing to let the DEA get involved in your medical care?

    The war on drugs needs to be fought in the street, not in the doctors office. I’ve said for years the DEA loves to fight their so called war in the doctors office. They don’t have to worry about getting shot at, getting dirty and they always know where to find their suspects. It’s time to call them on their BS. It’s time to put them back in the street to fight where the REAL criminals are.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.