1/3/2012, Champion of Pain Relief Siobhan Reynolds Dead in Plane Crash
By Maia Szalavitz
All of us are irreplaceable to someone—but few are irreplaceable in the public sphere. Siobhan Reynolds, 50, founder of the Pain Relief Network, who died in a plane crash Christmas Eve, was the exception. She tirelessly, compassionately and at huge financial and emotional cost to herself, worked to debunk myths about opioid treatment of chronic pain that continue to emerge even now.
The aspiring documentary filmmaker and mother of one was moved to activism by the overwhelming chronic pain suffered by her husband. Further spurred by learning that her son had inherited the same genetic disease, Reynolds was relentless.
Why, she asked, when opioids can help treat chronic pain, are they frequently only available to the dying—but not if your agony will last years? Why, when addiction to opioids is actually rare, do we treat them as though everyone who takes these drugs is likely to get instantly hooked? And why do we seem to see addiction—even in the dying— as a worse side effect than agony or even death?
…Later, in Florida, Reynolds came upon the story of Richard Paey… Although he was put under surveillance for weeks and never found to sell a single pill, he was nonetheless arrested for trafficking, convicted and sentenced to a mandatory 25-year prison term in 2004, based merely on the weight of the drugs he possessed. In prison, ironically, he was surgically implanted with a morphine pump that gave him doses higher than the opioid levels he had been convicted for taking.
Reynolds sprung into action, drawing attention to the case in the New York Times, 60 Minutes, and countless other major media outlets— generating such persistently bad publicity that Florida’s governor ultimately pardoned Paey.
A cousin of the Kennedy’s, Reynolds shared both the family’s commitment to public service and, seemingly, its undue portion of tragedy. Using her own money and whatever donations she could gather, she traveled the country. She gave strategic advice and legal referrals to doctors prosecuted for prescribing high doses of opioids.
Indeed, although her critics are now claiming that there is no evidence to support long term use of opioids for chronic pain, as she argued, compared to the vast majority of other drugs, there’s actually more data favoring long term opioid use. That’s because the FDA only requires short term testing for approval, a context often not mentioned in these attacks…
Before Reynolds, prosecution of opioid-prescribing doctors was simple: hold a press conference, label a medical practice a “pill mill,” call the physicians “pushers with pens,” and file murder charges against them for every patient under their care who died with opioids in their bodies. For good measure, invite both the grieving relatives and the addicts who blame the doctor for their problems speak out…
Reynolds increasing success at changing the narrative of these cases drew resistance from the DEA and prosecutors. In the last case she took on, Kansas prosecutor Tanya Treadway tried to issue a gag order on her, but was denied by the court. Undeterred, Treadway subpoenaed Reynolds for obstructing justice, presumably because the activist had put up a billboard proclaiming the innocence of the doctor being prosecuted. But bizarrely, the actual charges against her remained secret and over $40,000 in fines related to the case bankrupted Reynolds’ organization.