A McLean doctor once recognized as a leading authority on pain management was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury in Virginia in a wide-ranging conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs nationwide, some of which led to the deaths of three patients.
Dr. William E. Hurwitz, 57, was named in a 49-count indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He was accused of conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances, drug trafficking resulting in death and serious bodily injury, drug trafficking, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and health care fraud.
If convicted, Dr. Hurwitz, who also holds a law degree, could get life in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose office investigated the case, said Dr. Hurwitz issued “countless prescriptions for excessive dosages” to both patients and co-conspirators, sometimes writing prescriptions for as many as 600 pills a day. He described the prescriptions as “beyond the bounds of medical practice.”
The indictment said Dr. Hurwitz issued the prescriptions despite knowing his patients were “abusing, misusing and distributing the drugs.” More than three dozen people already have been convicted in the government’s ongoing probe, most of whom were charged with selling the drugs on the black market.
The prescribed drugs, the indictment said, included OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percocet, Darvon, Dilaudid, Lortab, methadone, morphine and Seconal.
Mr. McNulty said the conspiracy to sell and distribute the drugs began in July 1998 and continued through January. He said Dr. Hurwitz conspired with “others known and unknown to the grand jury” to illegally distribute and dispense controlled substances in an effort to “make as much money as possible.”
He said Dr. Hurwitz knowingly prescribed excessive amounts of controlled substances and knew that co-conspirators were selling much of them on the black market.
Dr. Hurwitz’s office was raided in November by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, after being identified as a target in an ongoing federal investigation of doctors suspected of overprescribing controlled drugs. The agents, armed with search warrants, took patient files and financial and other records, and copied the hard drives on many of the doctor’s computers.
The doctor announced at the time that he was closing his office in December and, in a message on his Internet site, asked other physicians to consider his patients for transfer. He said he had patients in Virginia and elsewhere in the East and Southeast “for whom possible referrals are needed.”
Dr. Hurwitz was not available for comment yesterday.
In May, the Virginia Board of Medicine placed Dr. Hurwitz on probation for what it called the improper treatment of several pain patients, three of whom died from overdoses of drugs they had been prescribed. They were identified as Rennie Buras Sr., who died in October 1999; Linda Lalmond, who died in June 2000; and Mary Nye, who died in November.
Mr. McNulty said investigators identified patients and co-conspirators in 39 states, the District and Canada, all of whom requested prescriptions from Dr. Hurwitz via telephone, facsimile or the Internet. He said the doctor charged his patients $1,000 as an “initiation fee” and up to $250 a month as a “maintenance fee” for the prescriptions.
The indictment said Dr. Hurwitz prescribed controlled substances to 470 patients, only a few of whom were terminally ill. It said Dr. Hurwitz inquired of, directed and organized various independent pharmacies to maintain large inventories of his prescribed narcotics so his patients and co-conspirators had reliable sources of prescriptions.