Longform

The Internet Internist

Page 3 of 9

It's impossible to say with certainty why someone chooses suicide.
But mental-health experts and others express shock at how readily Pietr Hitzig tweaked the brains of virtual strangers through cyberspace.

"I don't prescribe anything to people who just call up and ask," says Dr. Deborah Brogan, a psychiatrist at ASU's Student Health Center. "After a thorough, in-person evaluation, I'll recommend a medication to start with, if any. I'm not clear why this doctor was prescribing meds at all, and I don't understand this combination to treat depression. I always advise anyone with a mood disorder to avoid fen-phen because it's mood-altering."

Hitzig counters, "Look. If you use my technique, you'll stop all psychoneuroses. So, why should the doctor have to worry what the psychoneurosis is? You just fix the people. You tell them, 'Go down this list. If you got a stuffy nose, you increase your dopamine. If you're feeling anxious or hostile, you increase your seratonin. And you call me anytime you want.' I believe in taking care of people. I believe in medical care."

Phoenix-based DEA agent Tom Babicke says Hitzig's protocol reminds him of a movie from the late 1960s:

"Remember Valley of the Dolls? Remember all those actresses in that up-and-down syndrome--on amphetamines to lose weight, then not being able to sleep at night so they take sleeping pills, downers? Up and down, up and down. That sounds like the, quote, balance this guy is talking about."

Chernov's last employer, Paul Coppinger, says his brief interaction with Hitzig convinced him that the doctor is dangerous.

"Pietr Hitzig is an accredited con man," says Coppinger, co-owner of APPS Software International. "I'll stand by what I told him last summer."

What Coppinger told Hitzig via e-mail last August 8 was this: "I am very disturbed by the fact that you have prescribed such a powerful drug to Alvin without any direct consultation whatsoever. Even the most shady practitioner will require a face-to-face visit before 'forking over the goods.'

". . . Your electronic hucksterism is threatening the safety of not only Alvin, but the lives and livelihood of myself, my family and my employees. Further, your quest for profit has needlessly involved the attention of numerous police, judicial and medical professionals who must deal with the consequences of your actions and pick up the pieces of Alvin's shattered psyche."

One evening in August 1996, participants in an Internet "chat group" were gabbing about Pietr Hitzig.

"I am seeing a lot of anger against him," someone wrote, "but I have failed to see any posts actually posted by him. Someone fill me in please!"

Hitzig himself responded to the inquiry from his e-mail address, fenphen "I am the most competent to answer that question considering the quality of the responses you received. For instance, 'He's a creepy quack doctor who you should avoid at all costs!'"

To the contrary, Hitzig said, he was an Ivy League-educated (Harvard and Columbia) doctor who had developed "protocols re addiction and treatment of Persian Gulf illness, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome."

He called himself the "creator of the term Fen/Phen (March 1993) and owner of the patent office's service mark for same . . . Creator of the Hitzig Fen/Phen protocol that has successfully stopped bulimia, alcoholism, depression, cocaine addiction, anorexia nervosa, Gulf War Syndrome, asthma, Chronic Fatigue Immune deficiency, post-traumatic stress disorder . . . (Please note that those success rates cannot be equalled in any other office, and that those who dispense these medications without being part of the Hitzig Fen/Phen team are doing so at the risk of damage to the patient.) I hope that gives you a better idea of who I am and what I do."

In another message around that time, Hitzig added, "I get pleasure out of helping patients, establishing the validity of what I do, and, frankly, make money. There is no reason to believe that they should be in conflict . . . I am not trying to sell you beach fronts in Arizona or the Brooklyn Bridge."

Not everyone on the Internet bought the doctor's pitch.
"He is the fen/phen guru and will explain to you how it's good for everything from depression to the gout," someone wrote. ". . . [Hitzig] doesn't let a little thing like a 100 percent financial stake in the protocol stop him from offering unbiased opinions. Needless to say, proceed at your own risk."

As he did with Debbie Knight, Hitzig referred chat groups to his Web site. There, he said, they could find all they needed to know about fen-phen, including the effectiveness of his program on "depression:"

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin