Lawyers for a Haysville, Kansas, physician facing a 34-count federal indictment alleging he acted as a drug dealer in prescribing pain medications fought back last Friday, filing in federal court a motion to dismiss both the indictment and federal Controlled Substances act (CSA) as unconstitutional. Attorneys for Dr. Steven Schneider argued that federal prosecutors in Wichita improperly claimed authority over the regulation of medicine.
Schneider and his wife, a nurse at his Haysville clinic, were arrested in December amidst great fanfare from prosecutors, who referred to the general care, ambulatory, and pain relief clinic as a "pill mill" and asserted Schneider was "linked" to 56 deaths. They remained in jail held without bond until last month, when they were finally released pending trial.
Schneider is only the latest of dozens of physicians arrested and tried by federal prosecutors over their pain medication prescribing practices in recent years. With the DEA and Justice Department prosecutors asserting that they know best medical practices and willing to arrest doctors whose practices they disagree with, the field of pain relief medicine has been plagued by the tension between the imperatives of pain relief and those of drug control.
Schneider and his lawyers want the government out of the doctor's office. "This case is an effort by the federal government to define and regulate the practice of medicine masquerading as a criminal prosecution," wrote Schneider's legal team, which includes nationally known specialists. "This case should not be about whether Dr. Schneider fell short of the standard of care for certain patients, but whether he engaged in the legitimate practice of medicine."
Schneider's medical conduct should be a matter for the state medical board, not the federal criminal apparatus, the lawyers wrote. "All of the accusations against Dr. Schneider and Ms. Atterbury [Mrs. Schneider] revolve around matters of medical science, professional judgment, and evolving standards of practice. However, by seizing on widespread ignorance and hysteria surrounding the use of opioid analgesics in the treatment of chronic pain, the government has endeavored to shoehorn these matters, which bear no relevance to criminal culpability, into the rubric of drug dealing and health care fraud. With regard to the charges related to the Controlled Substance Act ('CSA'), the sole question should be whether Dr. Schneider was a drug dealer 'as conventionally understood.' Instead, the government confounds this question with irrelevant facts and improper standards."
The CSA is unconstitutional on its face as "impermissibly vague" when it comes to providing guidance for physicians and as applied in this particular indictment, the lawyers argued. "As applied in the Indictment, the CSA fails to adequately and meaningfully inform physicians of what conduct is proscribed, largely because such conduct is arbitrarily and unilaterally determined by enforcement authorities lacking knowledge and expertise with respect to issues of medical science and ethics."
No word yet on when a ruling on the motion is expected. But the direct attack by the federal government's drug war apparatchiks on pain doctors and the patients they serve has now provoked a counterattack aimed right at the drug war's jugular vein.