- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A nurse who worked for a McLean doctor accused of using his office as a front for drug trafficking testified yesterday that the doctor rebuffed her concerns about patients who were “a little bit creepy or seedy characters” and frequently demanded a high volume of drugs.

Susan Cruz of Herndon, a nurse practitioner in the pain-management clinic of William E. Hurwitz, said at Dr. Hurwitz’s trial yesterday that she recommended Dr. Hurwitz’s discharge from the practice a group of patients from Manassas who frequently demanded early refills of their prescriptions for potentially illicit drugs like OxyContin.

In some cases, Miss Cruz said she was concerned because of the patients’ incessant demands for drugs. In one case, she had learned that a patient was facing drug charges.

“I felt they were a little bit creepy or seedy characters,” she said. “It was just a feeling I had about those patients.”

Dr. Hurwitz, though, decided to keep treating the patients and prescribed opiates in amounts that were at times massive — as many as 1,600 pills a day in one case.

“Dr. Hurwitz said that first of all, a person is innocent until proven guilty. He also said [my concerns] could be a social bias, because these people came from a blue-collar background,” Miss Cruz said. “And he said that even if a patient has a problem with addiction, they still deserve pain treatment.”

Many of those patients have struck plea bargains on drug charges stemming from the investigation and testified against Dr. Hurwitz at trial.

Federal prosecutors have charged Dr. Hurwitz with numerous counts of drug trafficking, including two cases that resulted in death. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say he knowingly prescribed massive amounts of drugs to addicts and drug dealers. They also say that two patients who came to him seeking legitimate pain treatment were prescribed such massive amounts of drugs that he was responsible for their overdose deaths.

Dr. Hurwitz’s attorneys dispute that their client’s prescriptions were the cause of those patients’ deaths. They acknowledge that at times he prescribed massive amounts of opiates to the 300 or so patients enrolled in his clinic, but say it was part of an emerging medical trend that encourages high-dosage opiate treatment for pain management.

Miss Cruz, a defense witness, testified that Dr. Hurwitz employed a collaborative approach with his patients to ensure that they were receiving adequate pain relief.

“Only a patient can tell us how much pain he has,” she said.

It was under cross-examination from prosecutor Gene Rossi that she testified about her concerns about some of the clinic’s patients.

Prosecutors rested their case yesterday after nearly four weeks of testimony.

The defense team’s first witness — William Barr, a pharmacology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond — was barred from offering most of his testimony when U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler ruled that the defense had improperly failed to notify prosecutors about the substance of Mr. Barr’s testimony.

The trial is expected to go to the jury next week.

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