Board suspends doctor's license Emergency order calls Hitzig 'danger' to public

He denies wrongdoing

December 18, 1998|By Jay Apperson and Michael James | Jay Apperson and Michael James,SUN STAFF

Pietr Hitzig, Baltimore's internationally known Internet diet doctor, has been suspended from practicing medicine under an emergency order describing him as an "imminent danger" to public safety.

Hitzig's license was suspended Wednesday night by Maryland's Board of Physician Quality Assurance, which charged last week that the doctor had sex with patients, handed out medicine indiscriminately and otherwise flouted standards of medical care.

His attorneys were working yesterday to comply with an order that he surrender his licensing documents, his prescription forms and any controlled drugs in his possession.

Officials at the physicians board said the emergency suspension of a doctor's license is not unprecedented, but happens not more than two or three times a year.

"The board doesn't go down that road easily," said Barbara K. Vona, chief of the board's compliance division. Officials have described Hitzig's conduct as among the worst it has investigated.

Hitzig -- who once touted himself as the "father of fen-phen," the diet drug combination that was pulled off the market after a study linked it to heart damage -- has denied any wrongdoing.

He has insisted that he provides unique medical care for obesity, depression and drug addiction. In interviews last week, he said that if his license were to be revoked his patients would be the ones to suffer.

Attempts to reach Hitzig for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. Thomas C. Morrow, a lawyer representing the doctor, said his client was "upset but not surprised" by the suspension.

Last week, the Harvard-educated doctor defended himself, saying: "I am not a quack. They're going to cause people to die because of this. Instead of cursing me, the board should see what I can do."

Morrow said Hitzig has grounds to appeal the suspension successfully but he may need to conserve resources to defend himself.

Hitzig has also been under investigation for more than a year by federal authorities for running a controversial telemedicine practice online. And he has been ordered to a February hearing that could determine whether his license is revoked.

That continuing investigation, which is separate from the physicians board's, focuses on his prescribing medication to Internet clients around the world that Hitzig admits he never physically examined.

Federal prosecutors say it is the first case of its type in the country.

On Dec. 8, the state physicians board issued a 60-page document charging Hitzig, 56, with violating standards of medical care.

The document, based on interviews with patients beginning in 1995, charges that Hitzig intertwined his personal relationships with his medical practice by inviting female patients to dinner, to his home, and to have sexual encounters with him.

The reports says he once threw a female patient to the floor of his Timonium office and had sex with her after a night of drinking.

The report also says one patient died from an overdose of the diet drug phentermine, prescribed by Hitzig. Another patient, being treated for cocaine addiction, committed suicide near the driveway of the doctor's Baltimore County home, the report says.

Former patients said he dispenses medication without performing medical exams and that Hitzig casually popped blue and orange diet pills as if they were candy. The report also charged that Hitzig asked one of his employees to falsify a medical record.

In denying the allegations, Hitzig has said, "I can guarantee you I don't put handfuls of orange pills down my throat."

He also said, "In my portly condition, I'm not in shape to run down hallways or throw people on the floors and attack them."

Hitzig has acknowledged that he stripped naked and swam in a patient's pool. But he said it was an innocent "skinny dip," and others had gone into the house. He said the allegations are the "fantasies" of troubled minds.

"Dr. Hitzig is the first to say these allegations are bizarre," said Morrow, his attorney. "Our defense is not that it's OK to practice medicine that way. Our defense is that it didn't happen."

Two days after issuing the charges against Hitzig, the physicians board sent him a notice that it would consider suspending his license. Morrow complained yesterday that Hitzig had inadequate time to prepare for this week's hearing. He also said the board had voted a month ago to consider the suspension.

Morrow asked: "Where is the emergency here?"

Hitzig's lawyer also complained that the physicians board allowed no more than a half-hour during Wednesday's hearing for the doctor to respond to the many allegations raised.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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