Monday, September 29, 2003

Another Doctor In Jail

Pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was arrested Wednesday morning and sits in jail pending a Monday bail hearing. He was arrested after being indicted on federal charges related to his prescribing of opioid pain relievers in the course of his medical practice. Dr Hurwitz, a Jew, was presumably arrested on this particular Wednesday in order to keep him in jail over the Rosh Hashana holiday. Prosecutor Paul J. McNulty may have a different reason for choosing this particular day to arrest Dr. Hurwitz after an investigation covering several years but, if so, he isn't saying. The investigation of Dr. Hurwitz was begun prior to October of 1996, when the zealous prosecutors first showed their hand. The good doctor shut his office for the last time last year.

This is just the latest move in a campaign by the U.S. government against doctors who prescribe large doses of opiate pain relievers to patients in intractable pain. While the doses prescribed are in most cases well within the standards of medical practice, prosecutors use drug war rhetoric and horror stories to sway juries. This is enough to garner a fair few guilty pleas, as some doctors choose retirement rather than subjecting themselves to the possible jeopardy of stiff prison terms, but the prosecutions' success rate at trial is dismally low. Yet, the prosecutions go on.

As the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons press release has it:
As promised, the Bush Administration seized Dr. Hurwitz's assets under drug forfeiture laws, reserved for kingpins such as the Columbia cartel -- all without any finding of guilt. Then, in front of his two young children, about twenty armed agents seized the good doctor himself and imprisoned him without bail on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

This is a national disgrace -- doctors throughout the country are being targeted by egregious law enforcement for helping patients manage crippling pain with controlled, legal drugs.

"Physicians are being threatened, impoverished, delicensed, and imprisoned for prescribing in good faith with the intention of relieving pain," says Kathryn Serkes of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), explaining why AAPS has decided to support Dr. Hurwitz, as well as other doctors such as Cecil Knox, currently on trial in Roanoke, VA.

The "war on drugs" has turned into a war on doctors -- and lawful drugs and the patients who take them. Prosecutors make careers out of high-publicity cases involving the hot "drug du jour" such as OxyContin. But this war is causing enormous collateral damage and deaths from "friendly fire." Physicians have been drummed out of practice, sent to jail, and even been driven to suicide in the face of these 21st century witch hunts.

The public wants prosecution of terrorists, not doctors who relieve pain. Instead, the Department of Justice is using its inflated powers to encroach on state jurisdiction and terrorize unarmed, honest professionals. If this continues, not one doctor will be willing to prescribe the drugs that patients so desperately need.
I wonder, just who is the constituency for these prosecutions? Do the Bushes and the Clintons of the world really believe that this type of activity will garner them additional votes at election time? That is one question that will not receive much media coverage when G.W.Bush fails to achieve re-election. But mine is one vote that Mr. Bush lost last Wednesday. I don't care who takes his place, I just can't vote for a man who allows his subordinates to arrest a heroic man like Dr. Hurwitz, who continued to practice in the face of an impending prosecution. He finally retired when he did in order to allow his remaining patients to find alternative practitioners who would give them what they needed. It is a chilling fact that some of these pain patients, when they find themselves unable to secure sufficient pain medication, choose suicide rather than endure the pain that they are in. Yet the prosecutions go on.