Former diet doctor arrested in W.Va.

Hitzig indicted on 34 counts of illegal prescribing

July 08, 1999|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Pietr Hitzig, Baltimore's once-famous Internet diet doctor whose practice came crashing down amid claims of malpractice and sexual misconduct, was indicted yesterday on 34 counts of illegally prescribing medicine.

Federal agents arrested Hitzig early yesterday at his mother's home in Lewisburg, W.Va., where the Harvard-educated physician had been visiting. He remained jailed last night.

Though his World Wide Web site still advertises his drug treatments with the banner "Better than Ever," authorities said it is unclear if Hitzig continues to practice medicine. He surrendered his Maryland medical license in February.

The charges spelled out in an indictment unsealed yesterday in Baltimore's U.S. District Court relate to Hitzig's drug prescriptions for patients between February 1996 and early 1998, when he was running a Baltimore-based "telemedicine" practice.

Hundreds of patients around the world obtained drugs such as phentermine and fenfluramine from Hitzig after visiting his Web site and sending him requests by e-mail. Doctors in Maryland are required to examine patients before prescribing medication.

A federal affidavit alleges that a patient who met Hitzig through the Internet was an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who posed as an overweight businessman looking to slim down.

The agent said Hitzig prescribed him drugs to foster weight loss, though the two never met in person, the affidavit said.

"According to Hitzig's protocol, one would take fenfluramine if they were experiencing symptoms of low serotonin such as: hostility, anxiety, panic attacks, psoriasis and auto-immune disorders, as well as cravings for carbohy- drates, sex or cigarettes," federal agents said in court papers.

Neither Hitzig, 56, nor his lawyer was available for comment yesterday. But, for most of the past two years, when he was hounded by the specter of a federal investigation, Hitzig has acknowledged -- and defended -- his practice of prescribing drugs without physical examinations.

"My ideas are not wrong, they're just ahead of their time," Hitzig said in an interview last fall, arguing that the drugs he prescribed weren't addictive and that a physical examination wasn't needed.

"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," he said.

Government disagrees

Federal prosecutors don't agree with his explanation or his methods. The indictment charges him with dispensing fenfluramine or similar drugs to 12 patients during a two-year period.

Each of the 34 counts in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison without parole.

The criminal charges are the latest problems for Hitzig. In February, he surrendered his Maryland license to practice medicine after the state Board of Physician Quality Assurance detailed numerous patient accounts of questionable relationships that the doctor had developed with them.

Patients charged that Hitzig mixed his personal relationships with his medical practice by inviting female patients to dinner, to his home and to have sexual encounters with him.

Hitzig, upon turning in his license, admitted in a public statement that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with patients. But he added that he admitted to allegations because he could not afford the legal fees required to fight the board.

Changes of address

At that time, he declined to say how he intended to earn a living, but he said he had gone from living on a 7-acre estate in Monkton to a $700-a-month apartment in Baltimore.

He later moved out of the apartment.

The board also mentioned complaints by patients about the quality of Hitzig's 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.

Pub Date: 7/08/99

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