'Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer?' Spotlights the Perspective of a Doctor Accused of Overprescribing Meds

'Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer?' Spotlights the Perspective of a Doctor Accused of Overprescribing Meds

By David Konow 01/17/17

The new documentary spotlights Dr. William Hurwitz, a man who is revered as a healer by some patients and a pill pusher by others. 

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Dr. William Hurwitz
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The term "Dr. Feelgood" usually refers to a physician who will prescribe practically any medication to a patient. It's commonly associated with the infamous Dr. Max Jacobson, who treated John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and various other celebrities before he got his license revoked in 1975. A number of other Dr. Feelgoods have come under fire in recent years, including Michael Jackson’s physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2011 on manslaughter charges in relation to Jackson’s death.

Now, a new movie called Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer? takes a look at a Virginia physician, Dr. William Hurwitz, who in 2004 was sentenced to 25 years in prison for prescribing excessive amounts of opioids. His sentence was later overturned on appeal and reduced to four years.

The film has received strong reviews with the Hollywood Reporter, which calls it a "provocative documentary [that] deals with an issue that’s only become more urgent in recent years." Variety also raved, calling it a “sober, engrossing” film.

Dr. Feelgood is reportedly an even-handed account that lets the audience decide for themselves whether Dr. Hurwitz is a good man or if he indeed committed criminal acts. (A report in the Washington Post states that one of Hurwitz’s patients had died, two others suffered serious injuries, and some of his patients resold the meds on the black market.)

According to the early reviews, Dr. Feelgood embraces a lot of complex issues with no easy answers. Variety calls it an “ethically complex” story, but the documentary makes it “easy to follow.”

For the film, director Eve Marson interviewed Hurwitz’s patients, several of whom have praised him for his help (one patient said the doctor “really gave me my life back”); members of law enforcement who feel he is a criminal; and the doctor himself, who says he’s “led a moral life and done good in the world.”

Marson told Global Comment that in making Dr. Feelgood, “I was interested in looking at the ethical dilemma of prescription painkillers from the perspective of the doctor. As such, I needed a story of a doctor charged with overprescribing painkillers – but I wanted one that was not clear-cut.

"Dr. Hurwitz’s story was particularly intriguing to me because the testimonies in this case contradict each other so sharply. Some of his patients revere him as a heroic genius, while others condemn him as a fool and a murderer," said Marson. "I wanted to show both perspectives, but never wanted the film to take a clear stance."

Marson said Hurwitz was “very eager” to cooperate with the film, and that “for him it was a chance to share his perspective and help clarify his own motives. His family was more hesitant to be back in the news, but we did our best to assure his wife and daughter that our film would be a thoughtful meditation rather than a one-sided attack.” 

The film will be released on January 31. 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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