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Pain Doctor’s Trial Begins

Was McLean doctor a criminal drug dealer, or a compassionate doctor victimized by a few patients?

<bt><b>DETOX FROM OXYCONTIN</b> for Cynthia Denise Horn, the U.S. government's second witness in its case against McLean doctor William Eliot Hurwitz, took place in an Alexandria jail.

At the time of her July 8, 2002, arrest for conspiracy to distribute OxyContin, Hurwitz was writing prescriptions to Horn for thirty 160-milligram OxyContin pills per day, 80 times the amount she said she got from other doctors.

"After I got off the pills, I felt like I was 18 again," said Horn, 43, of Manassas, who testified on the second day of the trial, Friday, Nov. 3, that she called Dr. Hurwitz from jail a few weeks after her arrest.

"I told him he needed to stop giving OxyContin to people," said Horn, dressed in a black-and-white striped prison outfit. "It was destroying their lives."

<b>THE TRIAL</b> of Dr. William E. Hurwitz of McLean began in Alexandria last Thursday, Nov. 4, at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia before Senior Judge Leonard D. Wexler.

The 62-count indictment against Hurwitz, who closed his practice in 2002, includes charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, drug trafficking resulting in death, drug trafficking resulting in serious bodily injury, engaging in continuing criminal enterprise, and health-care fraud.

"A self-proclaimed healer, he crossed the line to a drug dealer," said Mark D. Lytle, assistant U.S. attorney, in the prosecution's one-hour opening statement last Thursday. "He thought he could hide behind the pain he treated."

<b>BUT HURWITZ'S ATTORNEYS</b> contend that he is a nationally known doctor who provided needed care for patients suffering from chronic, intractable pain.

"The undertreatment of pain is a serious and widespread health issue," according to documents filed on Nov. 1 by Hurwitz's attorneys Patrick S. Hallinan, Kenneth H. Wine and Marvin D. Miller.

From July 1998 to December 2002, Hurwitz treated more than 400 patients for chronic pain.

"Chronic pain is with you all day long, all night long, and makes you suffer every day. It destroys your life," Hallinan said, in opening statements for the defense last Thursday.

Dr. Hurwitz treated patients who ranged from 18 to 74, and included patients with “phantom limb” pain, patients who had undergone multiple surgeries, injury victims and people with migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and terminal illnesses.

"Given their previous medical histories, these patients are candidates for the type of medication therapy used by Dr. Hurwitz, which often involves high dosages of opioid drugs," according to Hallinan, Wine and Miller.

"It is important to understand that chronic pain patients are not those suffering from transitory or easily treatable causes of pain," they wrote. "A lack of public understanding about the nature of pain therapy and overbearing actions of regulatory authorities have combined to impede access to pain treatment, deter physicians from practicing pain medicine, chill the legitimate prescription practices of physicians who do treat pain, and thereby deny patients in this county their constitutionally protected right to relief from unnecessary suffering."

<b>SIX WITNESSES</b> for the prosecution testified in the first two days of the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi introduced Horn and her 18-year-common-law husband Kevin L. Fuller, 42, as the prosecution's first two witnesses. Fuller, who first started seeing doctors following three knee surgeries in 1985, 1987 and 1991, sold multitudes of the OxyContin pills prescribed by Hurwitz to continue to support their drug habits.

"I had a lot of pain, but I exaggerated it, trying to get the drugs," Fuller said.

Fuller, who pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute OxyContin and was sentenced to 188 months in jail, first went to Hurwitz on Aug. 4, 1998, at Hurwitz's home office on Swinks Mill Road. He testified that he paid Hurwitz a $1,000 initiation fee that was required to be paid in cash, plus a monthly fee that Horn said cost $250.

"I heard he was 'The Man,' the doctor who would help you get what you need," Fuller said. "When you're a drug addict hooked on OxyContin, you try to get what you want."

Fuller testified that he made a $229,000 profit in a 50-day period from March 26, 2001, to April 30, 2001, by selling prescribed pills. "I paid my bills, bought me a nice bike, and bought a whole lot of crack," Fuller said.

But when cross-examined by Hallinan, Fuller admitted he had "played a lot of doctors" over the years to get OxyContin. Fuller called Hurwitz naive, but he also said the doctor was “his friend.”

"He was concerned about me and my wife," Fuller said. "Dr. Hurwitz is always concerned."

<b>PAULA JANE FARMER,</B> the prosecution's fifth witness, who testified Friday, said prescriptions for OxyContin and Dilaudid from Dr. Hurwitz to her husband, John Farmer, cost $40,000 a month to fill. "We had to have more and more and more," said Farmer, 40, of Centreville, who was granted immunity for assisting the prosecution in its case. Her husband died in 2004 of an overdose; he was not under Hurwitz's care at the time.

During his opening statement, Hallinan called some of Hurwitz's patients "professional predators" who took advantage of Hurwitz's trust.

"It is the patient that hurts, the patient that suffers," Hallinan said, "and protocols of medicine say listen to your patient.”

Hurwitz kept detailed records regarding all his patients, including Horn, Fuller and Farmer, which his lawyer said points to his innocence.

"These medical records are in stone," Hallinan said. "You think someone involved in a scam of selling pills will document this?"