The foreman of the jury that convicted prominent pain doctor William E. Hurwitz on drug charges described him yesterday as a "sloppy" physician who prescribed enormous amounts of dangerous narcotics that went "beyond the bounds of reason.''
"The dosages were just astounding,'' foreman Ralph Craft said of testimony that Hurwitz prescribed 1,600 pills a day to one patient and that his dosages caused the deaths of several patients and seriously injured others.
"I'm not an expert, but I do know that under the Hippocratic oath, the first duty of a doctor is do no harm, and it seemed a lot of Dr. Hurwitz's patients were harmed much more than they were helped," Craft said.
Although Hurwitz struck jurors as intelligent and articulate and did try to help some patients, Craft said he seemed "a bit cavalier" toward many who were in chronic pain. "He ramped up and ramped up the prescriptions very quickly,'' Craft said. "This is stuff that can kill people. He should have been extra careful.''
The 12-member jury convicted Hurwitz last week on 50 drug-trafficking counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and trafficking resulting in death and serious injury. Jurors acquitted him of nine counts and deadlocked on the final three in the 62-count indictment before the judge declared a mistrial on those three counts.
Hurwitz, 59, who practiced in McLean until 2002 and was a major figure in a national movement to treat patients with chronic pain, faces up to life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
Prosecutors accused Hurwitz of prescribing excessive amounts of OxyContin and other painkillers to addicts and drug dealers, some of whom then sold the medication on a lucrative black market. The verdicts culminated a three-year investigation into doctors, pharmacists and patients suspected of selling potent narcotics and fueling an epidemic that ravaged Appalachia and triggered scores of other crimes.
Advocates for patients with chronic pain, many of whom attended the six-week trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, decried the verdict. They predicted, along with defense attorneys, that many of the estimated 30 percent of Americans suffering from chronic pain would now be left untreated by doctors afraid of going to jail.
Craft expressed skepticism about that viewpoint yesterday. "Certainly, the legitimate doctors out there don't prescribe anywhere close to what Hurwitz did,'' he said. "I would guess that legitimate doctors would not be threatened by this case.''
Other jurors declined to comment, did not return telephone calls or would not detail the reasons for the verdict. But several said the government put on a strong case. "The evidence was overwhelming, and the verdict speaks for itself," juror Carolyn Keller said.
Siobhan Reynolds, president of the New York-based Pain Relief Network, said the jury's perspective was understandable because defense attorneys were not allowed to call as witnesses most of the several dozen patients who would have testified that Hurwitz's dosages saved their lives.
"I believe this jury was duped,'' said Reynolds, who last week called Hurwitz "a hero and a medical pioneer.''
Defense attorney Marvin D. Miller echoed that point. "The government was allowed to present an overwhelming case, and we were not,'' said Miller, who plans to take up the issue on appeal.
Craft did question one key premise of the government's case: that Hurwitz not only knew that some patients were selling the drugs he prescribed but that he orchestrated the operation. "No, he wasn't running a criminal enterprise,'' Craft said, adding that he felt that some of Hurwitz's patients played more important roles.
"While I respect this juror's opinion,'' U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said, "Dr. Hurwitz was convicted of multiple drug-trafficking violations because he knew that many of his patients were abusing or selling prescription drugs.''