Hitzig gives up medical license

Internet diet doctor agrees not to practice again in Maryland

Sex with patients admitted

February 04, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Pietr Hitzig, Baltimore's Internet diet doctor, has surrendered his license to practice medicine to state authorities, agreeing never to seek reinstatement in Maryland and admitting that he engaged in sexual misconduct with patients.

Hitzig's license was accepted yesterday by Maryland's Board of Physician Quality Assurance, which described the Harvard-educated doctor's conduct as among the worst it had investigated.

Maryland's physician board, which brought the claims against Hitzig, suspended his license Dec. 16 and had scheduled a seven-day hearing this month to decide whether to revoke it. Hitzig is under federal investigation of allegations he practiced medicine through the Internet.

Hitzig, 56, said that he surrendered his license because he cannot afford the legal fees required to fight the board.

"I have no money. They've destroyed me financially, and I have no more moral fighting left in me," he said.

In a statement, Hitzig -- who once called himself the "father of fen-phen," the diet drug combination pulled off the market after a study linked it to heart damage -- said that he had closed his Baltimore medical office and surrendered his medical license and his license to prescribe drugs.

"I admit that I have engaged in unprofessional conduct including sexual misconduct with my patients. I acknowledge that I misused my position as a physician and betrayed the trust placed in me," his statement said.

Hitzig declined to say how he is earning a living, but said he has gone from living on a 7-acre estate in Monkton to a $700-a-month apartment in Baltimore.

Thomas C. Morrow, a lawyer who initially represented Hitzig before the board, said that the hearings can be extremely costly.

"These hearings are expensive, and for someone who's had a license suspended and has no means of income, it could be financially devastating," Morrow said.

For more than a year, federal authorities have been investigating Hitzig's telemedicine practice, which involved his prescribing medication to Internet clients around the world that he acknowledges he never physically examined.

Federal prosecutors say it is the first case of its type in the country. The Maryland board charged Hitzig with having sex with patients, handing out medicine indiscriminately and flouting many standards of medical care.

One patient died under his care from "drug intoxication," and another patient, being treated for cocaine addiction, committed suicide near the driveway of the doctor's Baltimore County home, according to a 60-page report the board issued in December. Hitzig has denied wrongdoing in the patients' deaths.

The board document, based on interviews with patients beginning in 1995, charged 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.

Former patients said he dispensed medication without performing medical exams and that Hitzig popped blue and orange diet pills as if they were candy, according to the board's report.

"He chose to surrender his license rather than go through the hearing process we had scheduled," said Barbara K. Vona, chief of the board's compliance division.

Hitzig insisted last night that he provided unique care for obesity, depression and drug addiction.

"My ideas are not wrong, they're just ahead of their time," Hitzig said. "It isn't the result of any conspiracy, but it's built into our genetic code to resist new ideas, and that's what is happening here."

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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