Hitzig files for bankruptcy protection Doctor says raid has ruined practice

November 27, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A Timonium doctor whose office was raided by federal agents investigating his use of the Internet in prescribing fen-phen to patients he had never met has filed for bankruptcy protection, saying the raid has nearly crippled his business.

But Pietr Hitzig, who once called himself "the father of fen-phen therapy," said yesterday that he hopes to continue practicing "telemedicine" not only here but in other states.

"I'm still a player. The last hasn't been heard from me," said Hitzig, whose offices were raided Sept. 30. "We still have an office, and we're coming back."

His Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, filed Nov. 20, lists $150,000 in assets and $242,000 in liabilities, including $9,000 owed to Florida-based Capstone Internet Studios and $7,039 to Network MCI Conferencing.

Hitzig said he was following his financial adviser's suggestion to file for bankruptcy. It has been nearly impossible to run his practice, he said, without his business files and computerized records, which include his accounts receivable.

His bankruptcy filing would also likely help shield his assets from any possible civil judgments against him. Hitzig was recently named as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court filed by fen-phen patients who claimed they developed heart problems after taking the diet pills.

No criminal charges have been filed against Hitzig, who federal authorities claimed in a search warrant affidavit was prescribing fen-phen to people around the globe whom he had never examined. They seized his computers, files and other office equipment as part of an investigation into possible violations of drug licensing law.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning said investigators are continuing to study the records seized from Hitzig's office. The examination of the records is "labor-intensive," Schenning said.

Fen-phen, which was commonly used in weight-loss therapy, was removed from the market earlier this year by the Food and Drug Administration after being linked to heart valve damage. Hitzig's prescriptions were dispensed before the drugs were pulled off the market.

What aroused the attention of federal drug agents was Hitzig's practice of prescribing the fen-phen combination to patients he had never examined. Hitzig readily acknowledges that he prescribed it for people he had never met but who had called him or sent him electronic mail after visiting his home page on the Internet.

"It's totally legitimate practice," Hitzig said. He has maintained that a doctor doesn't need to conduct a physical examination of a patient to prescribe nonaddictive medication.

He accused drug agents of trying to put him out of business because of what they perceive as the controversial nature of his treatment protocol. Hitzig argued on his Web page that fen-phen has extraordinary benefits for treating a variety of disorders, such as high blood pressure, gulf war syndrome and bulimia.

"I doubt the Drug Enforcement Administration has ever heard of the concept of telemedicine," Hitzig said. "What happened to me was an unconstitutional, unreasonable search and seizure."

Hitzig says he is considering other medical "business ventures" outside Maryland and may attempt to open other offices, possibly in California. He said the idea is still in the formative stages.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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