Monday, December 26th, 2011
From the THE AGITATOR:
I’m saddened to learn this morning that Siobhan Reynolds died over the weekend in a plane crash.
I met Reynolds several years ago when I attended a forum on Capitol Hill on the under-treatment of pain. Her story about her husband’s chronic pain was so heartbreaking it moved me to take an interest in the issue. I eventually commissioned and edited a paper on the DEA and pain treatment while I was working for Cato.
Reynolds was fierce and tireless. She ran her advocacy group the Pain Relief Network on a thin budget, and often used her own money to travel to towns and cities where she felt prosecutors were unfairly targeting a doctor. And then she’d fight back. And sometimes she’d win. And the DEA and the federal prosecutors she fought weren’t really accustomed to that.
There aren’t very many people who can claim that they personally changed the public debate about an issue. Reynolds could. Before her crusade, no one was really talking about the under-treatment of pain. The media was still wrapped up in scare stories about “accidental addiction” to prescription painkillers and telling dramatic (and sometimes false) tales about patients whose lazy doctors got them hooked on Oxycontin. Reynolds toured the country to point out that, in fact, the real problem is that pain patients are suffering, particularly chronic pain patients. After Reynolds, the major newsweeklies, the New York Times, and a number of other national media outlets were asking if the DEA’s war on pain doctors had gone too far.
Reynolds’ passion stemmed from her belief that her ex-husband died because he couldn’t get treatment for his chronic pain. She feared her son would contract the same condition, and face the obstacles. What infuriated her was that this was never a problem not knowing what relieves chronic pain. This wasn’t about research. Her husband had found relief in high-dose opioid therapy. It’s that in its efforts to stop people from getting high, the government had condemned her husband to suffer. (Watch The Chilling Effect, the movie Reynolds produced about her ex-husband’s fight here.) She was tireless. I often thought she was a bit too idealistic, or at least that she set her goals to high. She told me once that she wouldn’t consider her work done until the Supreme Court declared the Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional. She often frustrated efforts to build a coalition on the issue because she’d grown weary of medical organizations and academics who, while concerned about the issue, she thought were too cowardly to take a more aggressive stand.
But Reynolds started winning. She deserves a good deal of the credit for getting Richard Paey out of prison. She got sentences overturned, and got other doctors acquitted.
Of course, the government doesn’t like a rabble rouser. It becomes especially wary of rabble rousers who begin to have some success. And so as Reynolds’ advocacy began to move the ball and get real results, the government bit back. When Reynolds began a campaign on behalf of Kansas physician Stephen Schneider, who had been indicted for overprescribing painkillers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Treadway launched a shameless and blatantly vindictive attack on free speech. Treadway opened a criminal investigation into Reynolds and her organization, likening Reynolds’ advocacy to obstruction of justice. Treadway then issued a sweeping subpoena for all email correspondence, phone records, and other documents that, had Reynolds complied, would have been the end of her organization. Treadway wanted records of Reynolds’ private conversations with attorneys, doctors, and pain patients and their families. It was unconscionable Here’s an activist advocating on behalf of suffering people, and the government comes along and demands she turn over accounts of her private conversations with those same people. (Some of whom undoubtedly sought out extra-legal ways to relieve their pain, since the government had made it impossible for them to legally find relief.)
So Reynolds fought the subpoena, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she lost. Not only did she lose, but the government, with compliance from the federal courts, kept the entire fight secret. The briefs for the case are secret. The judges’ rulings are secret. Reynolds was barred from sharing the briefs she filed with the press. Perversely, Treadway had used the very grand jury secrecy intended to protect the accused to not only take down Reynolds and her organization, but to protect herself from any public scrutiny for doing so.
It worked. The Pain Relief Network went under. Reynolds also lost a good deal of her own money. She was never charged with any crime. But that was never the point. This was a vindictive, malicious effort to silence a critic. And it was successful. (I wrote a piece for Slate on Treadway’s vendetta against Reynolds.)
Despite all that, the last time I spoke with Reynolds, she working on plans to start a new advocacy group for pain patients. She was an unwearying, unwavering activist for personal freedom.
And she died fighting. Rest in peace. (See story and video)
EDITOR: Siobhan Reynolds was absolutely correct in her beliefs and accusations. Nevertheless, she was not an easy person with whom to work. It was her way or the highway!
We at Common Sense for Drug Policy were inspired by her to devote a lot of our public service advertisement to the cause of pain management reform. For more information, visit:
“Proper treatment of chronic pain, parts one and two”; “ Suffering from chronic pain?, “Good news and bad new about pain treatment”, “Chronic pain and opiods”, “Thirty attorneys general speak out on pain management”, “Zealots at DEA tore up pain guidelines”, “Justice for all”
A great hero. A great cause. A tragic but nevertheless extremely productive life. ‘May her memory be for a blessing.’ She most certainly was among the righteous!