Doctor says federal agents treating him like 'drug lord' Hitzig considers move from Baltimore area

October 03, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A Timonium doctor whose office was raided by federal agents investigating his use of cyberspace in prescribing fen-phen to people he never met says he is tired of "being treated like a Colombia drug lord" and may move his practice out of the Baltimore area.

"I would have thought this town would have made me their honored son by now," Dr. Pietr Hitzig, who has steadfastly

maintained that he has helped hundreds of patients around the world with his fen-phen protocol, said yesterday. "Instead, the authorities here are suppressing the answer to the drug and alcohol problem."

Hitzig says he has no immediate plans to leave. But he said he is considering the possibility of setting up in another state that would welcome what he called "new ideas."

Fen-phen, which was banned last month by the Food and Drug Administration on suspicion of having caused heart valve damage, is commonly used for weight-loss therapy. But Hitzig believes the drug combination has extraordinary benefits for treating other disorders, and he faxed prescriptions to pharmacies around the country before the ban.

He acknowledges that most of those prescriptions were written for people he had not met or physically examined but who had called him or sent him electronic mail after visiting his home page on the Internet. Hitzig has not been charged with any crime as federal authorities sift through paperwork and computers seized in Tuesday's raid.

An official with the American Medical Association headquarters in Chicago said that prescribing drugs to unseen patients is not only bad medical practice, but a violation of drug licensing law as well.

"You would have to have a death wish to practice medicine that way," said Betty Jane Anderson, special counsel to the AMA.

"For a prescription to be legally valid, the drug has to be prescribed in the usual course of medical practice," Anderson said. "That has been interpreted by the courts to mean that the physician has to examine the patient and then have the documentation in the medical report to support the prescription."

Prescribing drugs to someone who contacted a doctor through e-mail or a phone call "would be a clear violation" that could cost a doctor his or her Drug Enforcement Administration registration license, Anderson said. That would mean the physician could no longer write prescriptions.

In blatant cases, the doctor's license to practice medicine could be revoked, she said.

The Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance initiated the investigation of Hitzig in December by making a complaint to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a federal affidavit said.

J. Michael Compton, the executive director of the board, said Hitzig could lose his medical license for a minimum of one year if he is found guilty of any crime involving "moral turpitude." If that happens, Hitzig's name would be reported to the National Practitioner Databank, which is consulted before any state allows a physician a license to practice.

Hitzig, whose office was raided after undercover drug agents posing as overweight businessmen bought fen-phen from him in a sting operation, said he believes he adhered to legal and proper medical standards.

"An examination can mean a mental or a physical examination. I conducted mental examinations, which is a legitimate way to collect the data you need," he said. "What was I supposed to do when a bulimia patient called from Florida? Say, 'Oh, no, if you can't pay for a flight up here, you're going to have to continue vomiting?' "

Hitzig said he has no intention of giving up his medical practice "just because people at Johns Hopkins dinner parties laugh and snicker" at his practices.

"I'm not going to abandon my patients," he said. "I'm not going to say, 'Sorry, the Gestapo came by my place, and I can't help you any more.' "

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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