Friday, December 31, 2010

Silencing Siobhan

As a former collegiate middle-distance runner, I have a high tolerance for pain. In fact, I only have “lost it” one time, and that was when I showed up in the emergency room with a kidney stone. (At that point, I realized that if I were tortured, I would talk.)

Thank goodness, a friend of mine was the ER doctor on call and he quickly gave me four hits of morphine, which quickly quieted me and made the rest of the morning a bit more tolerable. It was only the second time I had taken morphine, and both times the alternative was experiencing pain beyond my toleration limits.

When I was in graduate school at Auburn University, my wife worked as a counselor at a local hospital, and one of her clients was a man who was 92 years old who had been put into care because he was “suicidal.” What had driven him to such a state? The government said he was “addicted” to pain medication and denied him the drugs that that kept him from being in a state of constant pain.

Unfortunately, this man’s story is the story of a lot of people in this country who live in agony due to health conditions or have complications post-surgery that leave them debilitated. Siobhan Reynolds had a husband with a serious congenital connective disorder who seemed to be responding to treatment from Dr. William Hurwitz, who then was a highly-respected pain specialist practicing in Virginia.

Unfortunately for both Soibhan’s husband and Dr. Hurwitz, Paul McNulty was the U.S. attorney in that area and he had dedicated himself to the directives from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, which ramped up not only the Drug War but also the entire culture of lying and misconduct that now is utterly out of control at the U.S. Department of Justice (sic). One of the areas of emphasis for the McNulty-Ashcroft DOJ was going after doctors writing pain prescriptions, and Dr. Hurwitz’s high profile made him the perfect target for the feds.

Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine has documented the Hurwitz persecution here, here, and here, and Harvey Silverglate gives the case a lot of attention in his outstanding Three Felonies a Day. McNulty’s efforts to destroy Dr. Hurwitz also translated into an effort to destroy those patients who had responded positively to the doctor’s treatments, and one of those patients was Siobhan’s husband Sean.

Two years after Dr. Hurwitz was convicted by a federal jury, Sean died of a cerebral brain hemorrhage, and whether or not it was due to the fact that his debilitating pain elevated his blood pressure to dangerous levels, nonetheless he was dead and his wife blamed the feds. Unlike many people who just accept federally-sponsored injustices and just go away, Siobhan Reynolds fought back by establishing the Pain Relief Network, which became a voice in support of doctors accused by federal prosecutors of writing pain prescriptions that, according to the government, “have no medical purpose.”

Ironically, physicians do not determine what constitutes a “medical purpose.” That is done by political appointees and bureaucrats at the Drug Enforcement Administration and DOJ, even though none of them are medically qualified to make such judgments. However, they are “politically-qualified,” and they do have the power and authority to destroy the lives of others, and many of them revel in just that.

Ms. Reynolds was not someone who would be silenced. Radley Balko writes:
Reynolds coached doctors under investigation on how to fight back. She says she's never been compensated to intervene on behalf of a doctor, other than an occasional airline ticket or hotel accommodations while she was in town to help out. "I moved in with my mother," she says. She played a crucial role in getting media outlets like Newsweek and the New York Times to look at the real problem of undertreated pain. At the same time, Reynolds' passion can make her seem unreasonable and extreme. She has been sharply critical of the medical establishment for failing to stand up for accused physicians, and she has angered more than a few prosecutors, regulators, and politicians.
Unfortunately for Ms. Reynolds and for all of the people she had helped, the feds decided that the last thing they wanted was a public critic who might actually be responsible for holding federal prosecutors and investigators responsible for what they were doing and saying. When Ms. Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network decided to support Stephen and Linda Schneider, who were on trial in Kansas for (What else?) writing pain medication prescriptions that “had no medical purpose, federal prosecutor Tanya Treadway fought back by abusing the law.

Treadway unsuccessfully demanded a gag order against Ms. Reynolds and the PRN, and then sought a change of venue, which the judge in the case also refused. Undaunted, Treadway first started a campaign of harassing Dr. Schneider’s patients and then Treadway decided to seek possible criminal charges for “obstruction of justice” against Ms. Reynolds. Radley Balko writes:
Treadway then launched a grand jury investigation of Reynolds, presumably for obstruction of justice, though she told Reynolds' attorney that she would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was under way. She issued Reynolds a sweeping subpoena demanding all of her records for every case in which she has ever advocated on behalf of a doctor or patient—every e-mail, letter, and phone record, as well as Facebook wall posts and status updates. Complying cost Reynolds tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of labor. With help from the ACLU, Reynolds sued to have the subpoena quashed. She lost. A second judge, Julie A. Robinson, hit her with a $200 fine for contempt each day she didn't comply. Robinson also declined Reynolds' request to make the subpoena and related proceedings public, effectively imposing a seal on the subpoena, Reynolds' challenge to it, and any materials related to either.
What makes things even worse is that Treadway is demanding that the grand jury proceedings and material be kept secret. The irony should not be lost here. Federal prosecutors are notorious for leaking grand jury material when it helps their cases. For example, the reason Martha Stewart even met with federal investigators (the meeting that was ground zero for the charges against her) without counsel was because U.S. Attorney James Comey’s staff illegally was leaking grand jury material to the media in order to damage the stock price of Martha Stewart Living.

(While it is a felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison for leaking grand jury material, no federal prosecutor ever has been indicted or convicted of such acts, despite the fact that this is a known and regular practice of the feds. So, Treadway is able to pursue a “Heads I win, tails you lose” strategy, given that she does not have to worry about accountability.)

The investigation has depleted the funds for the PRN and Ms. Reynolds finally shut it down. In announcing the closing of her organization, Ms. Reynolds pointed out the legal irony in a recent Facebook post:
It is important to note that PRN has been refused standing in federal court to sue the federal government in defense of the patients’ Constitutional rights; this, when the Sierra Club has been given leave to sue powerful entities on behalf of insects.
She closes with this warning:
The Drug War is a beast. I believe that the only effort that has a chance at changing the current state of affairs is the Liberty Movement, informally led by Congressman Ron Paul. (Emphasis mine)
Thus, it ends for Siobhan Reynolds. A federal prosecutor is trying to bring criminal charges against someone who simply had the courage to speak out against prosecutorial misconduct and to stand up for those patients who must suffer needlessly because, frankly, prosecutors want to boost their own careers by destroying the lives of doctors, their families, and their patients.

Ms. Reynolds did not quit because she lost courage; she quit because the government stacked the deck against her. She quit because a federal prosecutor is able to manipulate the legal system and the judges refuse to object to an obvious injustice.

Siobhan Reynolds is a remarkable person, someone who has my full admiration and the admiration of many other people. Furthermore, she has paid a real price for standing up to the feds and now has exposed just what a morally-bankrupt operation the U.S. Department of Justice (sic) really is, and the feds do not take kindly to people who reveal the immorality of federal prosecutors.

Indeed, the Drug War is a beast, but it is a beast only because of the beasts that inhabit that zoo known as the DOJ. The beasts at the DOJ demonstrate the conscience of a snake and the morality of a shark. Would be that Siobhan could have stood against them longer, but even for that brief time, she was able to get out the message that those who pursue the Drug War against doctors do not do so because of concern for patients, but because the real purpose of the DOJ is to destroy the innocent.

14 comments:

Trish said...

Off topic, but for those who have prayed for our family and for my son to have his children again, we went to court on the 22nd and he now has standard visitation again!!! He has had them since 4 o'clock on Christmas Day and has them until 4 tomorrow!! We are a very happy family!!! Happy New Year!1

Carola said...

That is wonderful news, Trish!!!! I am very happy for you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Anderson,

Usually your posts make me angry at the idiocy and injustice you write about, but this one actually brought a tear to my eye. When will the public wake up and understand that the war on drugs is nothing but the systematic destruction of people's lives by depraved, evil, and power-drunk thugs?

justiceseeker51 said...

What a way to start the New Year off right. Congrats!

Mitchell Powell said...

Well done. The war on drugs is an evil that all too many tolerate because of the horrifying things they think would happen with out it. By exposing the horrifying things that happen because of it, you're chipping away at its justification. Keep fighting the good fight.

liberranter said...

When will the public wake up and understand that the war on drugs is nothing but the systematic destruction of people's lives by depraved, evil, and power-drunk thugs?

Alas, "the Public" being "the Public," the only reasonable answer to your question would seem to be "never." Any nation comprised in the majority of liberty-loving critical thinkers would have put a stop to such nonsense decades ago, smothering the Drug "War" in its infancy.

Doc Ellis said...

Shared.

Thank you for writing this

Doc Ellis 124

Anonymous said...

So what are we going to do open up crack vendors like hot dog wagons on street corners? 5 dollar rock here. Don't forget your glass pipe, steel wool, and lighter. Maybe package up all the ingredients for crystal meth at your local convenience store. Go on home and make this potentially explosive cocktail. Private pharmaceutical companies can’t make crack or meth cheaper than it can be bought on the street. Plus the local prostitute can’t offer to give the pharmacist a blowjob for a crack rock.

The only drug that can possibly be legalized would be marijuana. Meth, crack, cocaine, and heroin are drugs that have no reason to be legalized. Besides there are already pharmaceutical grade cocaine and meth available but you will not find that on the local street corner.

Pills are legal to have yet there is still a huge illegal market. Illegal pills are the crack or meth of the 2000’s, the next epidemic. Pills are legal then explain the illegal market. Don’t give me this crap about the government cracking down on irresponsible doctors who don’t correctly evaluate patients. I’m talking about the people who forge prescriptions, commit robbery to steal pills from pharmacies, or the kid who steals the pain pills from his grandmother’s medicine cabinet.

Rob said...

Anonymous @ 1/2/11 11:47 PM:

"So what are we going to do open up crack vendors like hot dog wagons on street corners?"

Loaded question. Please provide reasoning or evidence that, if the so-called "War on Drugs" were ended, that crack vendors necessarily would open like hot dog wagons on street corners.

Loadedness aside, what exactly is your problem with people selling drugs openly and publicly?

"Private pharmaceutical companies can’t make crack or meth cheaper than it can be bought on the street."

Please provide reasoning and/or evidence that this not only is true today, but that it must be true at every single point in the future.

"Meth, crack, cocaine, and heroin are drugs that have no reason to be legalized."

I think you mean "no reason that I can see". That's different from no reason at all. My main reason for wanting to legalize meth, crack, cocaine, and heroin is simple: I don't think the government should be in the business of protecting people from themselves.

"Pills are legal to have yet there is still a huge illegal market. [...] Pills are legal then explain the illegal market."

That's because they're legally available only through prescriptions. If pills were over-the-counter, I seriously doubt there'd be such a "huge" illegal market for them.

I look forward to your response - hopefully you'll give me one instead of ducking out like you did with the other blog post.

Trish said...

Thanks!!

Roger said...

Mr. Anderson,

I believe you owe an apology to the sharks of the world. Sharks are very moral creatures who fit perfectly into the web of life. They eat only what is needed to survive and upon their death provide sustenance to those whom they once preyed upon.

The beasts at the DOJ, on the other had, ravenously feed upon innocent people and give nothing in return.

Anonymous said...

people who have high blood pressure take medication and become dependent. All kinds of illnesses have drugs you take to improve your life. Taking opiates is the only thing that takes the edge off of real pain. Instead of punishing the sick and weak why not go after the people that probably had something to do with Siobann's death. One day Ms. Tanya Treadway may slip on a banana peel, who know's she may end up messing up her spine. Maybe they do a few operations on her and maybe they mess up the surgery like they do to other people. Maybe Ms. Treadway will find out one day what it's like to be on the other side. People like her are more dangerous then anyone can imagine. Maybe one day she will know the agony of chronic pain. She wouldn't last a week in the pain I feel every day of my life and will until the day I die. I don't wish it on her I'm just saying karma can be a bitch. She has a truck load waiting for her it will happen I've seen it many times.

Anonymous said...

is this what we have become vultures that prey on the sick and the weak. When DEA agents and government get away with telling doctors how to treat pain patients we just crossed a line. What will it be next. What about alcohol how many messed up and lost lives from alcohol yet it's totally legal. I wonder how many people have been forced into alcoholism to try to treat pain??? Drugs and addiction are a billion dollar business and people are just collateral damage. To allow this treatment of pain patients is the beginning of the end. Pain is the most terrible lord of mankind worse than death itself. Very true words

Anonymous said...

is this what we have become vultures that prey on the sick and the weak. When DEA agents and government get away with telling doctors how to treat pain patients we just crossed a line. What will it be next. What about alcohol how many messed up and lost lives from alcohol yet it's totally legal. I wonder how many people have been forced into alcoholism to try to treat pain??? Drugs and addiction are a billion dollar business and people are just collateral damage. To allow this treatment of pain patients is the beginning of the end. Pain is the most terrible lord of mankind worse than death itself. Very true words