Va. doctor appeals pain prescribing verdict

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted April 17, 2006

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The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will decide whether Virginia pain specialist William E. Hurwitz, MD, was acting in good faith when he prescribed large doses of opioids and narcotics, such as oxycodone, to patients who were illegally selling and distributing the pills.

In April 2005, Dr. Hurwitz was sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $1 million after a jury in December 2004 convicted him on 50 counts of charges related to health care fraud and drug trafficking in pain medications.

The high-profile case caught the attention of the medical community, which is concerned physicians will shy away from prescribing the drugs to patients who actually need them for fear of landing in jail.

Dr. Hurwitz's attorney, Lawrence S. Robbins, declined to comment on the pending litigation. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration did not return calls for comment. But in April 2005, the DEA said it hopes to strike a balance between legitimate treatment and abuse. "Doctors should remain confident in their ability to treat pain," DEA administrator Karen Tandy said.

American Medical Association policy opposes the DEA's harassment of physicians who appropriately prescribe and administer controlled substances for pain management.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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