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OxyContin Network Believed Extensive
Federal Probe Nets 41 Convictions

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2003; Page A06

Federal prosecutors yesterday outlined for the first time the scope of their investigation into the illegal distribution of OxyContin, writing in court papers that they have already snared 41 dealers in an ongoing probe of doctors, pharmacists and patients who formed a conspiracy to sell the drugs in a black market.

In court documents associated with pleas and sentencing hearings in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, prosecutors said that "Operation Cotton Candy" has been focusing on 60 to 80 people in Northern Virginia, most notably two pain doctors who are "major targets" of the investigation. A federal organized crime and drug enforcement task force has been working for more than two years to trace the network of dealers, who prosecutors claim have received prescriptions for "obscene" amounts of the painkiller drug from the doctors.

Prosecutors wrote that many of the 41 dealers were patients or otherwise affiliated with the two doctors and their separate offices in McLean and Centreville. The doctors have previously been identified in court papers as William E. Hurwitz and Joseph K. Statkus. Both have acknowledged that they are targets of the investigation but have denied any wrongdoing.

Hurwitz and Statkus would not comment yesterday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi wrote in the papers that the doctors were prescribing pills after "perfunctory exams" and would "rubber stamp and oftentimes encourage the patients' insatiable demand for Oxy and other pills."

The patients would then fill their prescriptions at pharmacies and sell the pills or hand them over to "recruiters and organizers" for later sale at huge markups. Prosecutors said the pills were often taken to southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, where some conspirators have likened the market among rural addicts to "selling water in the desert," the court papers say.

OxyContin is a form of synthetic morphine that has been called a miracle drug for cancer patients and others with intractable pain. A long-acting, FDA-approved time-release pill, it enables some bedridden patients to return to their normal lives. But its potency has made it alluring to abusers, who crush it and snort it or inject it for a heroin-like high.

The documents released yesterday show that the federal grand jury is still hearing testimony and is examining about five patients "who died from receiving and taking obscene amounts of Oxy and other pills."

The information became public in documents relating to a sentencing hearing yesterday for Rita Faye Carlin, a former patient of one of the doctors, and at a plea and sentencing hearing for Kelly Kathleen Latimer, a former Prince William County prosecutor and defense attorney who was a patient of both doctors.

Latimer was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison for taking part in a conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and for obstructing justice and tampering with a federal witness. Latimer traded her pain medications to a friend in exchange for crack they shared.

"I know what I've done is wrong and that I've made a complete mess of my life," Latimer said in court.

Rossi called the case a "Greek tragedy," while Judge Leonard E. Wexler called it one of the most mind-boggling cases he has seen: "You're a lady who had the ability, had the brains, had the background, had the family background . . . and did what [you] damned pleased."

Latimer's case led, in part, to the resignation of another Prince William County prosecutor. John V. Notarianni resigned in April after FBI agents raided his office and took his computer as part of the investigation.

Federal prosecutors said in court that a former Prince William prosecutor helped Latimer get her husband to lie about where Latimer had been living after her release on bond. Though they did not name Notarianni, Latimer's husband, Merle Snider, said in interviews that he signed a document he knew was false when Notarianni asked him to.

Rossi said in court that Latimer called her husband and a "known conspirator" from the Alexandria jail April 9 to dictate a letter, aimed at influencing the court, that Latimer knew was misleading. Snider said in interviews that Notarianni met him in a church parking lot in Manassas on April 10, handed him a pen and urged him to sign the letter.

"I was looking at it thinking . . . 'He handles cases and puts people's lives on the line, and he knew it was a lie,' " Snider said in an April interview. "It was weird, because we both knew it was a lie."

The letter never made it into court files because Latimer's attorney wouldn't accept it. The attorney then recused himself.

Notarianni, who is now a defense attorney, has not been charged with a crime. Prosecutors said yesterday in court that Snider is scheduled to plead guilty in August to obstruction charges, and the U.S. attorney's office is weighing charges against the other known conspirator. Notarianni did not return calls to his office and his Manassas home yesterday.

Carlin was sentenced to 14 months in prison. Prosecutors said she has been helpful in the investigation and that she has testified before the grand jury.

Siobhan Reynolds
Executive Director of PRN

'Josh White of the (Washington) Post is trying to make a reputation in this Oxycontin area. I have spoken with him, and have been in e-mail communication with him on many ocassions, attempting to show him that his work is killing people, to no avail. He is half-bright and an easy gull for Rossi and the DEA.

I and others have pointed out that this Oxycontin firestorm was started by DEA, that the "deaths" have been debunked, etc. that these charges are disingenuous (the DEA and Justice know perfectly well that Drs. Hurwitz and Statkus were practicing medicine in good faith) and that this is essentially a campaign for funding, cynically run by DEA. White is having too much fun presently, playing reporter. The man is dangerous.

This sort of thing indicates that Statukus and Hurwitz may indeeed be put through a show trial like the Comprehensive Care case in South Carolina. Fortunately, they don't appear to have the equivalant of a Dr. Woodward in Northern Virgina so they will have to rely on the razzle dazzle of having patients say they lied to the doctors and using this as proof that the doctors were in bad faith.

I know its hard to understand how jurors would fall for such a thing but they do. Such a hysteria has been drummed up around opioids that even intelligent doctors such as Dr. Define, for example, can be manipulated into pointing the finger at a medication she knows has no special chemical properties or an added evil molecule. And yet, we see her saying here that it's bad because of what it has "done" to people. Clearly, confusion reigns. And it does so because the government is actively inciting riot of this kind. And the press, unfortunately, has been cooperating.

The story is lurid. It's man bites dog, so why not! It's easy for a guy like Josh White to pretend to be a reporter when he covers such a "dramatic" story in this way. There is nothing we can do about people like Josh White. The time will come when we will need to denounce him but we have a lot of hard work to do in the meantime.

The government is inciting a mob reaction against the pain profession, pointing to the doctors as though they were some kind of vampires and telling the mob that the doctors are the evil ones. Of course the mob can be counted on to gather round, torches blazing. I don't know about all of you, but I find the situation extremely dangerous.

This will not confine itself to "little guys" like the fifty or so doctors around the country facing this. Dr. Hurwitz is high profile. It could happen to any one.

Dr. Bordeaux was the test case to see if they could prosecute a totally innocent doctor and keep her collegues from running to her defense. It worked, so on they went.

I and my collegues have formed PRN to actively oppose what's happening here. We have been working on this thing full time since South Carolina.. We will soon be announcing our mission and outlining our essential plan.'

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