Weed Watch

Chronic-pain specialists are just drug dealers in disguise, say federal narcs

Busting the Pain Doctors

On Dec. 16, Virginia pain doctor William Hurwitz was found guilty in federal court of drug trafficking and was sentenced to 63 years in prison in connection with his prescribing of opioid drugs to chronic pain patients. The feds say that Hurwitz – who is controversial within the medical profession for prescribing large doses of narcotics – was nothing more than a licensed drug dealer who used his pain clinic to prescribe federally controlled substances that were then diverted onto the black market. Hurwitz's case is the feds' first big spoil in their ongoing attack against pain doctors.

Opioids – found in drugs like morphine, opium, and heroin – mimic the body's natural endorphins and are used in endorphin replacement therapy for patients suffering chronic pain. According to the Pain Relief Network, at least 50 million Americans suffer with chronic pain disorders. Federal prosecutors went after Hurwitz after busting a group of patients for illegally dealing the pain drugs prescribed by Hurwitz, reports the Drug Reform Coordination Network.

The patients made a deal with the feds to avoid prosecution and testified that they'd tricked Hurwitz into prescribing large amounts of opioid drugs, which were then diverted to the black market. That was apparently enough to convict Hurwitz on 50 counts of trafficking and related activities. "This sends a major message to anyone who would use the treatment of pain as a cover for being a drug trafficker," said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty.

Hurwitz's lawyers will appeal, in part because they say the court did not allow Hurwitz to raise a "good faith defense," said attorney Ken Wine. "No doctor in his right mind would prescribe for chronic pain patients now, knowing that their misuse of the drugs could be tied back to the doctor and he could be accused of being a drug dealer," he said.

The news of Hurwitz's conviction was a blow to patient advocate Siobhan Reynolds, director of the Pain Relief Network (www.painreliefnetwork.org), who called Hurwitz's prosecution just another misguided blow in the ongoing war on drugs. "It is really frightening to see this whole federal drug apparatus go into high gear to destroy that which it has targeted," she told DRCNet. "We are letting federal law enforcement regulate medicine through the criminal courts, and allowing the opinions of prosecutors to override the medical judgments of highly trained physicians."

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Weed Watch, William Hurwitz, Paul McNulty, chronic pain, opioids, Ken Wine, Siohban Reynolds, Pain Relief Network

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