Claim: Kan. pill mill tied to soldier overdoses

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas doctor was charged Tuesday with operating a pill mill for painkillers and antidepressants after police and Fort Riley officials raised concerns about overdoses — some of them involving soldiers and their families.

The U.S. attorney’s office alleged in a criminal complaint that Michael P. Schuster, 53, conspired to illegally distribute controlled substances. The charges were filed the same day that the FBI searched Schuster’s clinic, called Manhattan Pain and Spine. The clinic is in Manhattan, Kan., about 15 miles from Fort Riley, a U.S. Army base that is home to the 1st Infantry Division.

“Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem,” said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom in a written statement. “Health care providers are a critical part of our effort to keep the public safe. Without proper controls, prescription drugs are just as dangerous as any street drug.”

The doctor, a 1982 graduate of Stavropol State Medical Academy in Russia who previously was known as Mikhail Pavlovich Shusterov, is in federal custody pending his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Wichita. A phone message left for Schuster’s attorney, Barry Clark of Manhattan, wasn’t immediately returned. No one was answering the phone at the clinic late Tuesday afternoon.

The investigation began last year when police received reports that Schuster was issuing high-dosage prescriptions based on “minimal and cursory physical examinations,” leading to several overdoses, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, medical staff at Fort Riley reported to the Army Criminal Investigative Division that Schuster had treated several soldiers and their family members who died from overdoses.

Fort Riley officials said they were reviewing a request for information from The Associated Press.

Schuster was the only one in his office authorized to prescribe controlled substances. But an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit that Schuster would sign his name to blank prescriptions and leave those behind, directing staff to fill them out while he was traveling, including overseas to Russia, South Africa and Uruguay. Authorities allege Schuster was out of the office when 542 patients received prescriptions for drugs including the painkillers oxycodone and morphine.

The agent said that in August, a pharmacist became concerned after calling about a prescription Schuster had ostensibly signed that day and learning the doctor was out of the country. Ultimately, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts sent a fax to Manhattan pharmacies telling them not to fill prescriptions from Schuster’s office because he was traveling.

The board’s records show no disciplinary actions taken against him since he’s been licensed in Kansas.

The affidavit also said some prescriptions were of “questionable medical necessity” and that Schuster had a tendency to attract patients suspected of selling prescription drugs on the street.

If convicted, Schuster faces a fine of up to $1 million. He also faces a penalty of at least 20 years in federal prison if it’s determined that death or bodily injury resulted from the alleged crime.

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Associated Press writers John Milburn in Topeka, Kan., and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, contributed to this report.

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