"Any doctor encountering a patient in pain will now run for the hills," said Siobhan Reynolds, president of the New York-based Pain Relief Network. She called Hurwitz "a hero and a medical pioneer," comparing him to the astronomer Galileo.
Marvin D. Miller, an attorney for Hurwitz, said the verdict was "disheartening" and that "the American people are suffering because law enforcement is taking over the practice of medicine."
William E. Hurwitz is "a hero and a medical pioneer," said Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network.
But prosecutors hailed the conviction. "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 J. McNulty.
The battle between physicians who specialize in treating pain and the government has been escalating for several years. Those tensions were evident during Hurwitz's six-week trial. Supporters of Hurwitz looked on as prosecutors called more than 60 witnesses and played tapes of the doctor unknowingly talking to patients who were government informants. More than 20 former patients of Hurwitz testified, most of whom had themselves been convicted of drug crimes.
"For numerous patients, Doctor Hurwitz ran a pill mill, a criminal enterprise in the guise of a medical office," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi said in closing arguments. "His waiting room was filled with sleeping and incoherent patients, whose arms would be covered with track marks, needle marks or ulcers the size of a nickel."
Defense attorneys portrayed Hurwitz as a caring and courageous doctor who put his patients' welfare above his own during a career that included a stint as a Peace Corps physician in Brazil.
"Inside of him burned a flame, a commitment to try to help humanity," defense attorney Patrick S. Hallinan told the jury in closing arguments.
Four former patients testified for the defense about their fervent devotion to Hurwitz. In his own testimony, Hurwitz defended his treatment methods and admitted that he prescribed large doses of narcotics to patients who had been arrested or failed drug screenings. He did it, he said, because he believed that they were in pain.
Staff writer Marc Kaufman contributed to this report.