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Media from around the globe called Pietr Hitzig--the self-proclaimed "father of fen-phen"--for comment. The doctor appeared on a national radio talk show, comparing the situation to the recall of meat by a packing plant after the discovery of tainted hamburgers.
"Nobody died," Hitzig said, referring to both fen-phen and the burgers.
Hitzig took the opportunity to pitch his new program, which he dubbed "Nibbles-McBride"--nibbles because patients nibble the drugs instead of swallowing them whole, McBride after one of his patients. The regimen, which is also called "PhenFour," includes phentermine and the Parkinson's drugs that Hitzig prescribed to Alvin Chernov. Fenfluramine is absent from the new concoction.
The affidavit that DEA filed in connection with its September 30 search of Hitzig's office described an undercover agent's dealings with the doctor, which mirrored what is known about Alvin Chernov's. Posing as a businessman from Texas, the agent contacted Hitzig by e-mail, saying he wanted to lose weight and stop smoking. Hitzig e-mailed him back, "We do have patient treatment by phone. No doctors there in Texas."
The agent sent a down payment of $350 to Hitzig's office. One of the doctor's employees gave him the name of an Annapolis, Maryland, pharmacy that would dispense the drugs. The agent sent the pharmacy a money order. Within days, he received a package of pills by mail. The parcel included fen-phen, Carbidopa and Levodopa, and sleep-inducing drugs. Soon after that, Hitzig explained his protocol in a 75-minute conference call with the undercover agent and three other new patients.
Though he's not facing criminal charges, Hitzig admits the DEA raid has devastated his business. He filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition last November 20, listing $150,000 in assets and $242,000 in liabilities. The filing may shield his assets from any civil judgments against him, including a class-action lawsuit filed late last year by Baltimore-area patients who claimed they developed heart problems after taking fen-phen.
The doctor tells New Times that he never has grossed "more than about $900,000 or a million dollars" in one year, and hasn't netted more than about $220,000 in a year. He says his overhead costs--"A big office, lots of staff, et cetera,"--account for the relatively low level of listed assets and liabilities, adding: "I give a lot of freebies. I never turn down a drug addict, an alcoholic, anyone for that matter."
Other fen-phen lawsuits are focusing on the drugs' adverse mental aspects: An ex-Florida judge recently settled out of court for $250,000 against his prescribing physician--not Hitzig--after claiming he'd resigned because of psychiatric and other disorders allegedly caused by fen-phen.
But Pietr Hitzig is unrepentant.
"I've got lots of Alvin Chernovs who are still alive because of what I do," he says. "I've got some people who are psychotic. I've got people who are heroin-addicted leading totally normal lives . . . I can stop cocaine, heroin. Nicotine, I'm sure I can do, but I haven't spent enough time on it. You give me someone with a craving for [crystal methamphetamine], and probably within five minutes, I'll have the craving stopped.
"You have to regulate the dopamine and seratonin by one means or another. Meditation. Acupuncture does it somewhat. Even traditional medicine. Therapy. Prayer. There's many mansions in God's kingdom. My way just happens to be the most effective way."
Debbie Knight wrote a short eulogy for her brother. In it, she recalled their last conversation, two days before he killed himself, and Alvin's darkness-comes-and-the-darkness-goes epiphany.
"Now, my brother," she wrote, "you will never again remain in darkness. We will all miss you, we all love you. . . . Goodbye."
Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org