Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Schneider Pain Clinic and the Pain Relief Network (Part I)

In December of 2007 a Topeka grand jury returned a 34-count indictment against Dr. Stephen J. Schneider and his wife, nurse Linda K. Schneider. The indictment charged that 56 of the doctor's patients had died from accidental prescription drug overdoses between 2002 and 2007. While it admitted that only four of the deaths were found to be directly caused by drugs prescribed by Schneider's Haysville, Kansas clinic, it claimed that the doctor was known among addicts as "the candy man," "the pill man" and "Schneider the [prescription] Writer."

From the start, the government pursued its case against the Schneiders and their clinic aggressively. They sought to revoke court-appointed counsel to the defendants, while seizing assets belonging to the couple and even to their family members. Local jail officials barred them from visitation with their daughters when they tried to assist in a petition drive and media coverage of their case.

On February 1, 2008 thirty of Dr. Schneider's patients protested his indictment, calling his arrest "a great injustice." Standing outside his shuttered clinic, they carried signs including "Decriminalize Compassion," "Where Can I be Euthanized?" and "Our Blood Will Be On Your Hands." Many of his suffering former patients talked about how they had been "blackballed" for pain treatment at local hospitals and emergency rooms. 43-year old Anthony Trask, disabled from a  gunshot wound to the spine, tearfully described his life with untreated pain:
You start to get very emotional and unstable to the point you are no longer in control. You begin to hit things, kick things. You are restless, hopeless and have suicidal thoughts.
On February 12 these patients took their fight to court with the help of the Pain Relief Network, a New Mexico nonprofit corporation. Their lawsuit against Attorney General Michael Mukasey, U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren, the state of Kansas and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, claimed suspending Dr. Schneider's license endangered the lives of over 1,000 patients of the Schneider Clinic and deprived them of necessary medical care for their pain. Taking over the Schneiders' defense in the criminal case as well, the Pain Relief Network sought to make the Schneider Clinic case a national issue and challenge the constitutionality of federal drug laws when applied to doctor-patient relationships.

On March 1, their request for a restraining order against Schneider's license suspension was denied. Despite repeated reports that they were unable to find appropriate medical care, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown told Schneider's former patients that if they needed care they should go to the emergency room, not the court. They also claimed that the Pain Relief Network, who had brought the suit on behalf of the Schneider Clinic's patient, had no standing to participate in the suit.  "Strangers don't get to enforce the constitutional rights of others, and the PRN is a stranger here," said Kansas deputy attorney general Mike Leitch. Meanwhile, Dr. Schneider and his wife remained jailed without bond as federal prosecutors linked three more overdoses to patients of the Schneider Clinic.

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