A Kansas doctor and his wife who operated a pain management clinic in Haysville until their arrest by DEA agents in December 2007 went on trial in federal court in Wichita this week. Federal prosecutors charge that Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife and nurse, Linda, ran a "pill mill" that illegally distributed pain-relieving drugs to addicted patients, but the Schneiders and their supporters say he is a compassionate doctor who provided high dose prescriptions to patients suffering from chronic pain because that's what they needed.
The Schneiders and their supporters, including the Pain Relief Network, a national pain advocacy group, argue that they ran afoul of an overzealous federal prosecutor, Assistant US Attorney Tanya Treadway, who is improperly prosecuting them for their prescribing decisions. This prosecution, they say, is part of a broader attack on doctors who prescribe high levels of opioid pain medications by the DEA and federal prosecutors.
Treadway has also gone after the Pain Relief Network, first unsuccessfully seeking a gag order to block the group's leader, Siobhan Reynolds, from criticizing the prosecution, and then using an obstruction of justice investigation to demand that Reynolds turn over all documents related to the group's effort in the case. Reynolds initially refused, but relented after a contempt citation and accrued fines of $36,500.
In opening arguments this week in what is expected to be a two-month trial, Assistant US Attorney Treadway portrayed the Schneiders as greedy criminals. "This is a case about money, not medicine," she told jurors. Treadway said prescriptions were dispensed when Schneider was not president (but did not mention that physician assistants employed by the clinic could legally prescribe the drugs). "This caused abuse, overdoses, and deaths," she claimed.
Treadway even used the clinic's architectural style against the Schneiders, comparing its appearance to that of a Mexican restaurant. "And like a Mexican restaurant, people lined up at the door, waiting to get in," the prosecutor said.
But Stephen Schneider's attorney, Lawrence Williamson, likened the government's case the Dan Brown novel, "The Da Vinci Code," calling it "historical fiction." Williamson argued that the Schneiders were taking in Medicaid patients no one else would and billing the government more than any other doctor in the state. "He was costing them too much money," so the government decided to shut him down, the attorney argued.
While Treadway hammered on the 68 deaths among Schneider patients, Williamson pointed out that the practice had cared for more than 10,000 patients and was not aware of the extent of overdoses until federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against them.
Kevin Byers, representing Linda Schneider, who managed the clinic, said the couple were not guilty of the conspiracy charges. "The only thing they conspired in was a marriage," he said. "They ran a business together. That's the only conspiracy."
Stay tuned for more updates on the trial as it progresses.