I'm Not a Doctor

A second opinion on the challenges and opportunities facing today's physicians.

A recent death and the pain that lingers

1:30 pm, Jan. 6
Tags: Legal

The Internet was full of commentary after the recent death of Siobhan Reynolds, but none of the comments I saw came from Dr. William Hurwitz, the physician whose legal troubles inspired Reynolds to become an advocate for pain patients and the doctors who treated them.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still working on its report regarding the Dec. 24 single-engine plane crash outside the Vinton County Airport in Ohio that took the life of Reynolds, healthcare defense attorney Kevin Byers (who was flying the plane) and Byers’ mother, Eudora.

Reynolds took up the cause of pain patients after Hurwitz, the physician who was treating her ex-husband, became the subject of investigation and scrutiny. Hurwitz and his high-prescribing practice achieved particular notoriety after “60 Minutes” aired a Dec. 8, 1996 segment on him entitled “Pain Killer” which was rerun May, 25, 1997.

With much fanfare, Hurwitz was convicted on multiple drug charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison—considered a life sentence for the then 59-year-old. Once in prison, the doctor’s situation went from bad to verse as he passed the time penning poems about his court case and other matters.

Two years later, the case was retried and Hurwitz this time received a sentence of 57 months, which included time served. He has since faded from the public view, and—as I type this—the entry on him in Wikipedia doesn’t even mention his release.

“Since Hurwitz has already spent over 2 years in prison his lawyers believe he will be eligible for release in about 18 months,” the Wikipedia item states, providing proof of why it should not be considered prime source material by journalists, bloggers, historians, students and others.

Unlike with the case of another physician targeted by authorities for his prescribing practices, Dr. Frank Fisher, Hurwitz is not easy to find via typical Google searches and is not listed in the American Medical Association’s Doctor Finder list for his home state of Virginia (or West Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia).

But I was able to exchange a few e-mails with his lawyer, Richard Sauber, a partner with the Washington-based firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber, who responded quickly but didn’t volunteer much information.

“Billy is alive and well and living as a free man now for several years,” Sauber said in an e-mail.

“He never should have been charged in the criminal system,” he said in another.

Can I quote you on that?

"Yes," Sauber replied.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter @MHARobeznieks.

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