This is just a partial list of recent cases, beginning with the most recent. Multiply the number of doctors times the number of patients – tens of thousands have been deprived of life-saving treatment.
William Hurwitz, M.D., 59 years old, was sentenced to a shockingly harsh term of 25 years in federal prison for a conviction based on his care of pain patients. This is effectively a life sentence and is being appealed. AAPS plans to file an amicus brief in support of his appeal, as will other groups. The prosecution turned an issue of standard of care into a federal conviction for alleged drug dealing, even though Dr. Hurwitz never received any monies indicative of any participation in a drug dealing conspiracy. In an unusual step, Dr. Hurwitz was even denied bail pending his appeal. As reported earlier, Dr. Hurwitz’ prosecutor compared doctors to the Taliban. Dr. Hurwitz was also treated harshly before trial, being held in jail pending posting of a $2 million bond secured only by Virginia real estate (which he did not have), and seizure of his retirement account. Dr. Hurwitz is a graduate of Stanford medical school with a law degree from George Mason University, and was a valued innovator in the treatment of pain. For more information about Dr. Hurwitz’s many scholarly contributions to the field of medicine, see spring 2003 J P&S.
Dr. Harry Meyer Katz, 79 years old, was convicted in March of 176 felony counts of illegal distribution of controlled substances. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined $75,000. Prosecutors called him “Dr. Feelgood” for his treatment of pain. In February another physician in the St. Louis area, Russell Chlystra, received a sentence of two years and two months in prison and a fine of $25,000 for dispensing prescription painkillers, supposedly illegally.
Bernard Rottschaefer, M.D., was the latest victim of a disgruntled employee, some patients who were drug addicts, and an overzealous prosecution. Since his conviction on March 9th, six female addicts have sued him claiming that he is the one responsible for their addiction. His former medical assistance, whom the doctor ultimately fired, claimed he was having sex with his drug addicted patients behind locked doors. At trial the doctor testified that he did not realize those patients were addicted and he denied having sex with any of them, noting that one has a medical condition making sex unthinkable. Nevertheless, at his sentencing on September 24th the doctor was mercilessly ordered to serve 6 ½ years in jail despite a lack of any direct evidence against him. His wife handled the billing for the office and defended her husband, saying he was the target of a “witch hunt.”
After the trial, 183 love letters by the prosecution’s star witness were discovered describing how she “planned to lie to the grand jury and at trial by saying she had sex with Rottschaefer. She hoped her testimony would get her a reduced sentence for selling OxyContin, a narcotic pain reliever. She ended up with five years of probation in a plea bargain with the U.S. attorney’s office.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 5, 2005.
The trial judge, however, denied Dr. Rottschaefer’s motion for a new trial, and he has appealed.
Dr. Jesse Benjamin Henry, Jr., was perhaps the first doctor indicted for first-degree murder for prescribing painkillers. He was charged in state court with seven counts of first-degree depraved mind murder, for seven patients who died of drug overdoses after taking multiple combinations of drugs, sometimes including cocaine. To avoid a lengthy trial and the possible equivalent of a life sentence, Dr. Henry pled guilty on September 13th to seven counts of involuntary manslaughter along with single counts of trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. But his wife, Hong Lu, has not accepted a plea deal and is scheduled for trial starting Oct. 4. The prosecutor may compel the husband to testify against the wife, as full marital privilege has been abrogated in many states as well as federal prosecutions. Dr. Henry is also being sued in four separate cases and still faces a federal attempt to seize his assets.
Jeri Hassman, M.D., a pain management physician entrapped by an undercover agent posing as a patient, was sentenced in federal court in Tucson, AZ, on August 16. After an exhaustive investigation, the government filed hundreds of counts against Dr. Hassman concerning a small number of patients, with each prescription constituting a separate count. If convicted on just a single count, Dr. Hassman could have been imprisoned for many decades. A single mother with two children at home, she had little choice but to be pragmatic. The overall acquittal rate of defendants charged in federal court is less than 1%. Even if one wins, the process destroys the defendants and other charges can still be brought. Dr. Hassman felt compelled to plead guilty to four counts of being an accessory after the fact of several patients’ allegedly unlawful possession of controlled substances.
Dr. Hassman made a compelling statement to court that illustrated how she has already suffered. She pleaded for a chance to continue practicing for the benefit of her patients, including the uninsured. The government, nevertheless, argued for five years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a fine. The Judge decided to impose two years of probation, plus 100 hours of community service, 50 in a substance abuse center and 50 serving nonpaying patients in her office. Dr. Hassman may reapply for her DEA certification one year after the date of the plea agreement. Her conviction is not for drug dealing; thus, she will not be excluded from Medicare. However, the Judge conditioned the sentence upon this disconcerting requirement: Dr. Hassman must publish in a medical journal an exemplary letter describing the devastating consequences of her own behavior and the righteous prosecution by government, so that others may be influenced.
Freddie J. Williams, M.D., was sentenced to life in jail on September 1, 2004 in Florida for prescribing oxycodone that allegedly lead to the death of two patients. U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers also required Williams to pay more than $2 million in restitution to insurers and even a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor. Williams insisted that he is innocent and noted that some patients lied and others forged prescriptions. The active ingredient in OxyContin is oxycodone, which provides 12 hours of pain relief.
Dr. Deborah Bordeaux received a sentence of 8 years and one month for being included in an alleged conspiracy to prescribe medications such as OxyContin. Her sentence was based on working for a mere 57 days in a pain clinic in Myrtle Beach, SC. Other physicians at the clinic received sentences of 19 years and seven months (Dr. Ricardo Alerre) and even 24 years and four months (Dr. Michael Jackson). Drs. Deborah Sutherland and Thomas Devlin also received two years each. Benjamin Moore, pleaded guilty, committed suicide prior to sentencing.
“I believe and I hope that this case has sent a clear message to the medical community that they need to be sure the controlled substances they prescribe are medically necessary,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Day. “If doctors have a doubt whether they could get in trouble, this case should answer that.”
“I’ve done everything by the book; I don’t even have a parking ticket,” Dr. Jackson said at sentencing. “I think this is just a mistake the government made.”
Dr. Alerre, given over 19 years in jail, is 74 years old. In response to a plea to reduce his sentence based on his age, U.S. District Judge Weston Houck said the law doesn’t allow it: “I’m convinced in my mind that Dr. Alerre is a good person; and you’ll never see him in jail again, but I’m not going to break the law.”
(see March 2003 AAPS News at www.aapsonline.org).
Wheelchair-bound Richard Paey, husband of an ophthalmologist, was convicted on March 6th in Florida’s third attempt concerning his use of painkillers. The 45-year-old Mr. Paey had turned down an offer of probation based on principle but now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in jail. He reacted to the verdict by sprawling his upper body on the defense and sobbing. In a recently published letter to an editor, Ann Marie Kreger of Port Richey, Florida, wrote that “This man, in chronic pain most of us cannot begin to imagine, was unable to find medical help to ease unbearable pain. He did not sell any medication, even the prosecutor admitted he used the pills himself. … He is in prison on a morphine pump and suffering from multiple sclerosis. The law should not be so black and white that because of the amount of pain medication he obtained for himself that his punishment is more severe than a drug dealer selling cocaine to our children. …” From his jail cell, Mr. Paey has become an outspoken advocate of the need of patients for pain medication, appearing on Nightline.
Despite an acquittal and hung jury, the federal government is going to retry Dr. Cecil Knox beginning April 13th. (The statistics on retrial of defendants who received a hung jury the first time is that the federal government wins conviction 95% of the time on retrial, because it redoubles its efforts with unlimited resources after the defendants are usually broke.) Dr. Knox originally won an acquittal on many charges, and a hung jury on the remainder. He was not convicted on a single charge. On March 9th, the trial judge dismissed with prejudice all the charges against another defendant, Willard Newbill James, Jr. Here is a report after Dr. Knox’s original trial: “Federal prosecutors failed to win a single conviction Friday against a pain specialist accused of illegally prescribing medication, including the powerful narcotic OxyContin, that contributed to the deaths of seven patients. After a seven-week trial and more than a week of deliberations … [t]he jury acquitted [another defendant on numerous charges], and were unable to reach a verdict on remaining counts.”
The Decatur, Alabama Daily News wrote this week: “Nationwide, the list of doctors charged for prescribing painkillers is a long one. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has investigated 557 doctors this year, and disciplined 441 of them. Combined state and local law enforcement agencies target many more doctors than DEA. Some of the doctors face charges of murder or manslaughter. All face the risk of losing their medical license.”
David Thurman, M.D., of Louisville, Kentucky. The parents of a 28-year-old patient who took his own life on July 30th are now blaming the doctor for the suicide. This is a familiar allegation, the type that often leads to a malpractice lawsuit. The doctor was treating the patient for a bad back, and it’s unclear whether the prescriptions were even connected in any way to the death. Nevertheless, the state revoked his license and the patient’s divorced parents are complaining about the doctor to the media. Pressure is on the DEA and prosecutors to investigate.
James Graves, M.D., former Navy flight surgeon, sentenced to 63 years for manslaughter (4 patients overdosed on OxyContin). He is imprisoned in the Santa Rosa County Jail in Milton, FL, pending appeal. His request for a bond pending appeal was denied because the prosecutor filed additional charges for Medicaid fraud. Although Dr. Graves did not accept Medicaid money, some of his patients used their benefits to fill his prescriptions.
Donald Kreutzer, M.D., convicted in Illinois state court, awaiting sentence. All charges at trial related to two undercover agents, in at least one of whom meds (Vicodin) had been when “patient” didn’t bring in his pay slips.
Freeman Clark, M.D., serving a 6 year sentence. (5th SW Virginia doctor convicted of writing illegal prescriptions in 2 years) Also convicted: – Dr. Vasu Arora of Grundy, Virginia, Dr. Dinkar Pate, of Grundy, Virginia, and Dr. Denny Lambert of Dante, Virginia.
Franklin Sutherland, M.D., VA, sentenced to 70 months.
Joseph Talley, NC, license revoked, on deck for indictment.
Robert Weitzel, M.D., charged with first-degree murder and convicted of manslaughter and negligent homicide, sentenced to 15 years, then acquitted on retrial.
Pascual Herrera, M.D., license revoked in Alabama in wake of OxyContin hysteria, for “sloppy handwriting.”
Frank Fisher, M.D., charged with murder. Murder charges thrown out, but lesser charges still pending. Dr. Frank Fisher vindicated at last. – 2/4/05
Randall Lievertz, M.D., of Indiana, indicted on charges carrying sentence of 20 years plus $1 million fine. Concern was apparently related to the amount that Medicaid had to pay for OxyContin prescriptions.
Dr. Denis Deonarine of Florida indicted for murder in OxyContin overdose, could face death or life imprisonment.
Dr. Daniel Maynard of Dallas, TX, office, home, bank raided, Medicare payments frozen, said to be “linked to 11 overdose deaths.”
Dr. Statkis of Virginia, raided, threatened with indictment.
Dr. Dudley Hall of Bridgeport, CT, possibly convicted.
Dr. Katarzyna Rygiel. Facing charges by California Board of Medicine related to treatment of drug addicts with pain.
Dr. Richard Garcia Munoz. In the midst of a hearing before Pennsylvania Board of Medicine related to the treatment of a patient disabled by chronic headaches and back pain.
Tad Lonergan, M.D. , of Desert Hot Springs, CA, arrested and thrown into jail for prescribing Tylenol 3 to undercover agent who complained of migraine, without doing a pelvic exam. He told of his experience at the 54th annual meeting. I can’t remember how much time he served, but he was excluded from Medicare and Medicaid. Tel: (760) 251-8887