A federal appeals court has ordered a new trial for William Hurwitz, a former Virginia pain-management doctor, on the ground that jurors were not allowed to consider whether he prescribed drugs in good faith, reports the Washington Post. The case has been central in the debate over whether licensed doctors prescribing legal medication to patients in chronic pain should be subject to prosecution if their patients abuse or sell the drugs. Patient advocate groups backed Hurwitz and expressed concern that his conviction would have a chilling effect on pain doctors.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that U.S. District Judge Leonard D. Wexler improperly told jurors that they could not consider whether Hurwitz acted in “good faith” when he prescribed large amounts of OxyContin and other painkillers — in one instance, 1,600 pills a day. Patient and medical advocates hailed the decision. “It’s about time that courts start to realize that these are doctors, not drug dealers,” said Kathryn Serkes of the Arizona-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.