Calvert's country doctor

January 06, 1993

His defenders called him one of the "heroes" of Calver County, a country doctor who still made house calls and charged patients a modest $15 for office visits. Yet that didn't stop prosecutors from bringing criminal charges against George J. Weems, an 82-year-old physician who opened his practice in the county in 1938, for illegally prescribing prescription drugs without a legitimate medical purpose to undercover police officers.

Dr. Weems was acquitted of all charges by the Prince George's County judge who agreed to hear the case after Calvert County's judges recused themselves.

In acquitting Dr. Weems, Judge Robert J. Woods said the prosecutor had not demonstrated that the physician acted with criminal intent. Among the distinguished witnesses who testified behalf of Dr. Weems' character were state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, state Sen. C. Bernard Fowler and retired state Sen. Paul J. Bailey.

Calvert County residents evidently believe justice was done. Dr. Weems has been a revered figure in the county for more than five decades and a three-time county commissioner and chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee.

But that is not the end of the matter. Dr. Weems retired last year after the Maryland Board of Physicians Quality Assurance threatened to suspend his license after the charges became public. Now he wants to apply for reinstatement so he can resume treating patients. Such a request should be treated with great circumspection. Although Dr. Weems has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, the case nevertheless has raised serious questions regarding his medical judgment. The original charges against Dr. Weems stemmed from complaints by pharmacists and a former associate that he had become lax in writing prescriptions for painkillers. In one case he wrote a prescription for an undercover officer's girlfriend whom he had never met. He also prescribed painkillers for patients without conducting a physical examination, according to trial testimony.

Abusing prescriptions of any kind is a serious breech of medical ethics, and abusing prescriptions for painkillers can foster harmful drug habits. It also contributes to attitudes that make it more difficult for patients to get adequate pain medication when they actually need it. Before granting Dr. Weems' request the board ought to assure itself that his practices don't contribute to these problems, however unwittingly.

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