PHARMA/POLICY: DEA insanity continues–Dr. Hurwitz Convicted

I’m a little late as this happened last week, but it has to be reported even though it makes me very angry. The DEA and its poodles in the DOJ have succeeded in getting Dr. William Hurwitz Convicted on 16 Counts of Drug Trafficking. Hopefully Hurwitz will be out of jail relatively soon—although no guarantees. He’s served 2 and a half years for just being a doctor, and could serve up to 18 more.

Unfortunately the chronic epidemic of untreated pain goes on and on. As I pointed out in Spot-on last year :

45 to 80 percent of nursing home residents have substantial pain.  The consequences of poor pain management include sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, depression, anxiety, agitation, decreased activity, delayed healing and lower overall quality of life. Fewer than half of nursing homes residents with predictably recurrent pain were prescribed scheduled pain medications

So we have a massive health problem, and the DEA acts like a bunch of brownshirts, going after pain doctors. Listen to Tierney’s account of one of the patients from the doctor that the prosecution used.

Then, during cross-examination by the defense, Dr. Hamill-Ruth was shown records of a patient who had switched to Dr. Hurwitz after being under her care at the University of Virginia Pain Management Center. This patient, Kathleen Lohrey, an occupational therapist living in Charlottesville, Va., complained of migraine headaches so severe that she stayed in bed most days. Mrs. Lohrey had frequently gone to emergency rooms and had once been taken in handcuffs to a mental-health facility because she was suicidal. In 2001, after five years of headaches and an assortment of doctors, tests, therapies and medicines, she went to Dr. Hamill-Ruth’s clinic and said that the only relief she had ever gotten was by taking Percocet and Vicodin, which contain opioids.

Mrs. Lohrey was informed that the clinic’s philosophy “includes avoidance of all opioids in chronic headache management,” according to the clinic’s record. The clinic offered an injection to anesthetize a nerve in her forehead, but noted that “the patient is not eager to pursue this option.” Mrs. Lohrey was referred to a psychologist and given a prescription for BuSpar, a drug to treat anxiety, not pain.“You gave her BuSpar and told her to come back in two and a half months?” Richard Sauber, Dr. Hurwitz’s lawyer, asked Dr. Hamill-Ruth. Dr. Hamill-Ruth replied that unfortunately, the clinic was too short-staffed at that point to see Mrs. Lohrey sooner. Under further questioning Dr. Hamill-Ruth said that she was not aware that BuSpar’s side effects included headaches.

Mrs. Lohrey looked elsewhere for help. Having seen Dr. Hurwitz on television _ — “60 Minutes” and other programs had featured his controversial high-dose opioid treatments — she sent him a letter describing her pain and the accompanying nausea and vertigo.“I have lost hope of retrieving my life as it was,” she wrote, because she could find no doctor to take her seriously. “I currently have a physician who has said that I am psychologically manufacturing my headaches, and that I am addicted to narcotic pain relief. This of course is not the first time that I have been treated as a ‘nut’ or a ‘junkie.’ ”


“I felt that I had a duty to the patients,” Hurwitz said. “I hated the idea of inflicting the pain of withdrawal on them.” After the closure of his practice in 2002, he said, two of his patients committed suicide because they gave up hope of finding pain relief. The most moving testimony came from Mrs. Lohrey and other patients who described their despondency before finding Dr. Hurwitz. They said they were amazed not just at the pain relief he provided but at the way he listened to them, and gave them his cellphone number with instructions to call whenever they wanted.

“I felt like I was his only patient,” Mrs. Lohrey testified. “I think he truly understood the nature of what I was going through.” When she lost her health insurance, she said, Dr. Hurwitz continued treating her at no charge, and helped her enroll in a program that paid for her opioid prescriptions. After Dr. Hurwitz’s practice was shut down, she could not find anyone to treat her for seven months. Eventually, she found a doctor willing to prescribe small numbers of low-dose Percocet, but she said she was not getting enough medicine to consistently blunt the headaches.

“The last two weeks, I was pretty much in bed and sick with the headaches and the nausea and the whole nine yards,” she said, explaining that she had deliberately undergone the two weeks of pain in order not to use up any of her pills. “I had to save up medication,” she testified, “so I could be here today.”

Tell me which physician was guilty of malpractice, and why on earth one of them deserves to be in jail?

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2 replies »

  1. This case is not about medicine but rather the goverment’s desire to regulate the pratice of medicine, beyond obvious patient abuse or malpratice by individual doctors. There is a rather Middle Ages equation of suffering bringing merit in heaven. Remember in Catholic school being told when you have a headache to not take medication like aspirin but to offer it up to God in concert with the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, somewhat similar to Bush his view of what is appropriate medical experimentation that could relieve suffering. Cannabis despite being shown in a double blind trial reported in Neurology journal to be effective in treatment neuropathic pain in over the majority of patients will never met the Federal Gov.requirements as they see it as connected to the patient feeling good which is sinful obviously and a missed opportunity to suffer.

  2. Puritanical belief that sickness is a sign of some moral defect, or the work of demons, still infects our laws. Progressivism that would allow for proper treatment is considered old-fashioned and weak. Diplomacy is spoken of with a sneer.
    It is a dark time when bombs and guns and torture are fine, but relieving suffering? That’s subversive.
    Sometimes, ladies and gents, the most subversive thing you can do is a good job. Let’s be subversive for a week and see how things turn out.