Speaking of piling on federal charges, a jury yesterday convicted Kansas pain doctor Steven Schneider and his wife, Linda, who worked as a nurse in his office, on five counts of illegally writing prescriptions, 11 counts of health care fraud, and 17 counts of money laundering. They face sentences between 20 years and life. All the charges stem from the claim that Schneider was operating a "pill mill" disguised as a medical practice, prescribing painkillers for patients who did not have a legitimate need for them. Prosecutors also tried to implicate Schneider in 68 patient deaths, including patients who committed suicide, patients who ignored dosage instructions, patients who used illegal drugs along with painkillers, and patients who died months after seeing Schneider or while he and his wife were behind bars.
I have not examined the evidence in the case, so I cannot say to what extent Schneider was duped by patients or whether he was negligent. But judging from the press coverage, the case looks much like others in which conscientious doctors have been treated like criminals because they put the interests of their patients ahead of their role as conscripted soldiers in the war on drugs. The prosecution and the press typically conspire in cases like these to present every aspect of a doctor's practice in a sinister light. Prescribing painkillers becomes drug trafficking, applying for insurance reimbursement becomes fraud, making bank deposits becomes money laundering, working with people at the office becomes conspiracy, and a patient's death becomes homicide.
The Pain Relief Network's Siobhan Reynolds has championed the Schneiders' cause from the beginning, prompting a vindictive investigation for obstruction of justice because she publicly disputed the prosecution's portrayal of the couple. "The crisis in pain treatment is going to deepen even further," Reynolds said outside the courtroom yesterday. "People are going to have trouble getting care because doctors are afraid this is going to happen to them."
[via the Drug War Chronicle]