Dr. Schneider, accused by government, protected by patients

Once open seven days a week for as many as 11 hours a day, today the Schneider Medical Clinic is closed and the couple who ran the clinic are in jail.

The doctor and his assistants are alleged for writing unlawful prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, muscle relaxers and other drugs. It states that Schneider, 54, was known as "The Pill Man" and "The Candy Man."

The doctor's 49-year-old wife helped run the $1 million, state-of-the-art clinic built by the couple in 2002 in this suburban community of 10,000 people.

But Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, nurse Linda Schneider, are getting some high-powered help: an advocacy group for chronic pain patients has taken over their criminal defense.

The indictment links their clinic to the accidental overdose deaths of 56 patients. The government charged the doctor and his wife with directly causing four deaths and contributing to the deaths of 11 other patients cited in the indictment.

The New Mexico-based Pain Relief Network hopes to mount what it vows will be a landmark federal case over prescription painkillers.

"It has all the elements we want: an innocent doctor, destroyed vulnerable patients, a wonderful legal team with heart, a family that really hangs together — right in the Heartland of America. I couldn't ask for more," said Siobhan Reynolds, the network's president.

Reynolds likened the federal indictment against the Schneiders to other high-profile prosecutions of physicians nationwide that it contends have spooked doctors from treating chronic pain patients.

Reynolds contends that autopsies of chronic pain patients who are treated with high doses of painkillers commonly blame overdoses when other medical causes actually caused the death.

The government's prosecution of the Kansas doctor and his wife is set against the backdrop of other unrelated celebrity deaths, including the accidental drug overdose death of actor Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith.

Family and patients defended the beleaguered Kansas doctor and his wife. Pain patients signed petitions and held a rally in support of the doctor.

Pat Hatcher, Linda's sister, said the clinic had four medical providers and contends that Schneider did not even treat all the patients whose overdose deaths are alleged by the government. She said the doctor and his wife saw people nobody else wanted to treat because those patients were uninsured.

Prescription drug abuse is widespread across the country. The number of emergency room visits nationwide linked to drug abuse has increased more than 160 percent since 1995, government statistics show.

Painkiller retail sales surged 150 percent in volume nationwide in 2001 in the wake of unprecedented marketing campaigns and an aging, aching population. But experts say high-profile prosecutions of pain management specialists has since spooked medical providers from writing pain medication.

The National Association of Attorneys General, alarmed by stepped up enforcement, sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005 saying they were exerting "a chilling effect" on the willingness of physicians to treat pain patients. It was signed by the attorneys general of 29 states.

The shuttering of Schneider's clinic has been felt by some of his former patients. Eight held a news conference Tuesday to complain that medical providers have repeatedly refused to treat them out of concern that they could be subjects of similar prosecution.

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Author`s name Editorial Team