WICHITA — For the first time, Stephen Schneider spoke publicly about the events leading up to him and his wife facing a federal criminal trial over their medical practice.
And he did it from the witness stand, facing 32 criminal charges and accused of overprescribing painkillers.
The former doctor said he began taking patients with chronic pain because few other local physicians would see them — especially patients on Medicaid.
Charged with contributing to the deaths of 68 patients, Schneider said he would not have prescribed narcotics to any patient if he thought it would harm them.
Schneider said he trusted his patients to follow their treatment regimens and his directions for taking the drugs.
"I believed in them," Schneider said.
Schneider remembered vividly when federal agents raided his clinic on Sept. 13, 2005. Schneider said he pulled up to find his Haysville clinic, managed by his wife, Linda, surrounded by cars.
He was questioned by agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Why didn't you kick out your pain patients right then?" Schneider's lawyer, Lawrence Williamson, asked.
"I guess I wasn't very smart," Schneider testified. "Maybe I should have done that. But I was concerned about the patients."
Schneider continued seeing those pain patients the next day.
"When the patients came in, we just couldn't say no to them," Schneider said.
Schneider said he sometimes would prescribe more than one type of pain medication to a patient. Some would be long-acting, such as opiates, to take once a day.
Others would be short-acting to be taken if pain persisted through the medications. Doctors call this break-through pain, Schneider testified.
Schneider said patients described pain as feeling like being stabbed in the back and the knife twisted.
"When you feel like you're being stabbed in the back, you can think about little else," he testified. "Our job was to help them live again. Think again. Sleep again. Go to their kids' soccer game again."
He said he didn't know some patients were abusing their medications. In hindsight, Schneider said, he and his staff were duped.
But Schneider testified that chronic pain patients are often accused of being addicts.
"Typically people taking controlled drugs are presumed addicts until proven otherwise,'' he said.
Schneider denied that half of his patients were seeing his Haysville clinic for pain management, or that he scheduled patients every five minutes.
"We took care of the patients," he said. "It took as long as it took."
Schneider began his career in family practice for Riverside hospital in 1988. He said he left Riverside, when it sold to Via Christi Health, to open his own practice in 2001.
Within two years, the Schneiders had opened a larger, newer clinic in Haysville. It was managed by his wife, a nurse who is also on trial facing the same charges.
"Did you ever, ever advertise this as a pain management clinic?" Williamson asked.
"No," Schneider said.
Schneider also said he did not authorize his office to bill for services while he was out of town, which is alleged in the health care fraud charges.
Williamson asked Schneider about learning about the deaths of some of his patients.
"Would you ever have said, 'Oh, well' about learning a patient died?" Williamson asked, referring to testimony Tuesday by a former physician assistant.
"I don't remember ever saying that," Schneider said. "I wouldn't have said that."
Schneider said the 68 overdose deaths in the indictment against him don't represent the thousands of patients he treated for ailments from ingrown toenails to high blood pressure, headaches and other illnesses.
"It's very sad for anyone to lose their life," Schneider said. "I really feel that if there's any opportunity I had to save their life and I didn't, I regret it."
Schneider's testimony as the defense's first witness continues this afternoon.