Drug Policy

Hurwitz Convicted

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Dr. William Hurwitz was convicted over the weekend for a second time on drug trafficking charges. John Tierney has been doing some tremendous reporting from the trial. After the verdict, he has interviewed three of the jurors, and writes this report :

They said that the jury considered Dr. William Hurwitz to be a doctor dedicated to treating pain who didn't intentionally prescribe drugs to be resold or abused. They said he didn't appear to benefit financially from his patients' drug dealing and that he wasn't what they considered a conventional drug trafficker.

So why did find him guilty of "knowingly and intentionally" distributing drugs "outside the bounds of medical practice" and engaging in drug trafficking "as conventionally understood"? After attending the trial and talking to the jurors, I can suggest two possible answers:

1. The jurors were confused by the law.
2. The law is a ass (to quote Mr. Bumble from "Oliver Twist").

I can't blame the jurors for being confused, because that's the norm in trials of pain-management doctors. The standard prosecution strategy is to charge the doctor on so many counts and introduce so much evidence that the jurors assume something criminal must have happened. Their natural impulse, after listening to weeks of arguments, is to look for a compromise by digging into the mountain of medical minutiae – and getting in so deep that they lose sight of the big picture.

Tierney finds that the jurors essentially convicted Hurwitz of not scrutinizing his patients enough. None of the jurors he talked to claim to know what the legal standard "outside the bounds of medical practice" actually means. Instead, they told him, "we just had to go with our gut."

The ramifications of Hurwitz's conviction on the continuing treatment of pain are ominous. If Hurwitz can go to prison for not being suspicious enough of his patients, the message to pain specialists is clear: Err on the side of mistrust, suspicion, and undetreatment, or risk going to prison.