Pill Mill Prosecution and the Pain Relief Network

Wow. I just read an email about a story that I was vaguely aware of– about a doctor in Kansas and his wife, who were together linked to scores of overdose deaths. But that is just the beginning. The doctor was supported, during his trial, by Siobhan Reynolds, founder of a nonprofit advocacy group called ‘Pain Relief Network.’ She started the group back in 2003, when her ex-husband was suffering from severe pain from a congenital connective tissue disorder.Reynold's Billboard
He (the ex-husband) found relief in combinations of high-dose opioids and benzodiazepines, at least until his doctor, Virginia pain specialist William Hurwitz, was convicted on 16 counts of drug trafficking. The ex died, by the way, in 2006. Are you still with me?
The trial of the Kansas doctor, Stephen Schneider, went on for years. During the trial, Ms. Reynolds apparently helped support what she considered to be a ‘dream team’ of attorneys. She used the case as an opportunity to increase her visibility, encouraging the Schneiders to aggressively fight the charges against them on the basis of ‘patient rights.’ Ms. Reynolds, through the Schneiders, argued that suffering patients are being denied appropriate care because of a war, waged by overly-aggressive prosecutors, against doctors who prescribe pain medication.
Ms. Reynolds even paid for a billboard adjacent to the road to the courthouse, so that jurors could see, en route, the statement “Dr. Schneider Never Killed Anyone.” Some might see the billboard as ‘free speech’, but the judge presiding over the case was not amused. At the eventual sentencing, the judge gave both Dr. Schneider and his wife over 30 years in prison, hoping that the sentences would “curtail or stop the activities of the Bozo the Clown outfit known as the Pain [Relief] Network, a ship of fools if there ever was one.”
We already have enough drama for a made for TV movie. Actually there already is one, made by Ms. Reynolds, about her ex’s struggle over finding appropriate pain treatment. The hour-long film is called ‘The Chilling Effect,’ and can be found here— along with a number of vignettes about the efforts of the Pain Relief Network.
Make that the former Pain Relief Network. Ms. Reynolds was investigated by a Grand Jury, led by the same prosecutor who led the efforts against Dr. Schneider. After years of what she considered to be ‘vindictive efforts,’ she closed down Pain Relief Network, saying that the organization’s finances ‘were in shambles.’
Within weeks of closing PRN, Ms. Reynolds lost her life in a plane crash. Piloting the plane, and also killed, was Kevin Byers– Ms. Reynold’s romantic partner and also– get this attorney for the wife of Dr. Schneider.
Our story ends in typical, made for TV fashion, with all of the loose ends tied up. The Pain Relief Network is gone, tragically missed by some, and considered ‘good riddance’ by others. Ms. Reynolds, tireless advocate or misguided fanatic, has left this world for the next. Left behind are the story-tellers; I will provide links to both sides, so that readers can have a true, balanced perspective. From the PRN side, simply go to their former web site, and you will find links to the archives. The archives contain links to stories in a number of publications, including Slate and the NYT– places where David and Goliath stories are repeated without much challenge, particularly for the Davids.
On the other side is a woman named Marianne Skolek, writer for the Salem News online site, who has little positive to say about Ms. Reynolds and PRN. For years she has chronicled the epidemic of deaths from Oxycontin, and she has also written a number of articles about the Schneiders, Reynolds, and PRN. One of the most chilling points in a story by M. Skolek is a a list of the patients who saw Dr. Schneider and who died shortly afterward. The pattern is clear; people in sudden possession of large numbers of pain pills, who took amounts sufficient to end their lives:

Name

Age

On or about 1st Office Visit

On or about Last Office Visit

On or about Date of Death

Heather M28Aug. 27, 2001Feb. 8, 2002Feb. 9, 2002
Billie R45Oct. 19, 2001May 2, 2002May 4, 2002
William M36Nov. 12, 2002Jan. 28, 2003Feb. 4, 2003
Leslie C49April 9, 1996Feb. 9, 2003Feb. 14, 2003
David B47Nov. 18, 2002March 12, 2003March 15, 2003
Terry C48Oct. 12, 2001April 8, 2003April 14, 2003
Lynnise G35May 23, 2002April 23, 2003April 30, 2003
Mary S52Feb. 6, 2003June 11, 2003June 16, 2003
Dustin L18June 26, 2003June 26, 2003June 27, 2003
Marie H43Dec. 24, 2002May 28, 2003June 30, 2003
Jessie D21March 4, 2003June 27, 2003July 11, 2003
Boyce B59June 29, 2003July 23, 2003July 25, 2003
Kandace B43July 10, 2003Nov. 12, 2003Nov. 14, 2003
Katherine S46July 9, 2003Nov. 19, 2003Nov. 25, 2003
Robert S31June 2, 2003Dec. 7, 2003Dec. 8, 2003
Deborah S44Jan. 3, 2003May 5, 2003Feb. 5, 2004
Shannon Mi38July 27, 2003Dec. 9, 2003Feb. 23, 2004
Danny C35April 21, 2003March 5, 2004March 6, 2004
Vickie H53June 26, 2003March 16, 2004April 11, 2004
James C33March 3, 2004June 8, 2004June 9, 2004
Shannon Me25July 24, 2003June 4, 2004June 22, 2004
Ancira W45Sept. 25, 2002June 15, 2004July 12, 2004
Darrell H24Nov. 12, 2002July 15, 2004July 17, 2004
Michael H37March 9, 2004Aug. 26, 2004Sept. 12, 2004
Patricia C43Nov. 8, 2001Oct. 4, 2004Oct. 6, 2004
Jon P36April 23, 2004Oct. 8, 2004Oct. 20, 2004
Tresa W43Sept. 15, 2003Nov. 29, 2004Dec. 16, 2004
Jeff H45Jan. 10, 2003Dec. 8, 2004Dec. 29, 2004
Russell H24Aug. 23, 2003Jan. 12, 2005Jan. 19, 2005
Michael B48Sept. 30, 2004Jan. 28, 2005Feb. 2, 2005
Amber G22Aug. 13, 2003Jan. 3, 2005Feb. 26, 2005
Christine B45Dec. 11, 2001Dec. 3, 2004April 7, 2005
Victor J48Jan. 24, 2005April 15, 2004April 22, 2005
Randall P44March 10, 2005April 22, 2005May 3, 2005
Michael F49Jan. 10, 2005May 9, 2005May 11, 2005
Deborah M52Feb. 23, 2005May 4, 2005May 15, 2005
Patricia G49Feb. 1, 2003June 18, 2005June 20, 2005
Dustin B22Jan. 20, 2005Feb. 27, 2005June 21, 2005
Jerad M24July 9, 2004June 13, 2005June 22, 2005
Earl A29Sept. 22, 2004June 29, 2005July 3, 2005
Brad S53Oct. 15, 2004June 30, 2005July 11, 2005
Clifford C39July 23, 2003June 29, 2005July 27, 2005
Sue B38Oct. 21, 2002May 12, 2005Aug. 1, 2005
Jason P21Aug. 19, 2003June 29, 2005Sept. 4, 2005
Randall S52April 27, 2005Nov. 12, 2005Nov. 19, 2005
Thomas F46Feb. 15, 2005Jan. 5, 2006Jan. 9, 2006
Toni W37Dec. 30, 1999Feb. 16, 2006Feb. 18, 2006
Marilyn R39Aug. 16, 2004March 16, 2006April 5, 2006
Dalene C45Aug. 25, 2003April 19, 2006April 21, 2006
Eric T46June 2, 2003April 19, 2006April 23, 2006
Jo Jo R46Feb. 26, 2005June 5, 2006June 7, 2006
Mary Sue L55Jan. 30, 2002June 13, 2006June 14, 2006
Pamela F42March 31, 2003July 21, 2006July 22, 2006
Deborah W53July 18, 2003Sept. 7, 2006Sept. 9, 2006
Jeffrey J39May 5, 2004Oct. 23, 2006Oct. 24, 2006
Ronald W56June 29, 2004March 20, 2007March 23, 2007
Evelyn S50Dec. 12, 2004April 16, 2007April 17, 2007
Robin G45July 13, 2004May 11, 2007May 15, 2007
Ralph S44Jan. 16, 2003May 15, 2007July 23, 2007
Patsy W49Dec. 2, 1999July 16, 2007July 26, 2007
Donna D48Dec. 27, 2005July 19, 2007Aug. 16, 2007
Lucy S.61Aug. 29, 2003Aug. 23, 2007Aug. 28, 2007
Gyna G33Feb. 10, 2004Oct. 4, 2007Oct. 7, 2007
Casey G28Sept. 4, 2007Sept. 13, 2007Oct. 23, 2007
Julia F50June 20, 2007Nov. 20, 2007Nov. 28, 2007
Rebecca T54May 2, 2006Nov. 17, 2007Dec. 24, 2007
Jane E40Jan. 8, 2003Jan. 12, 2008Jan. 26, 2008
John D52June 23, 2003Jan. 3, 2008Feb. 10, 2008

 
The story is not quite over. The Schneiders are now appealing their convictions, claiming insufficient counsel– namely that the romantic involvement of one of their attorneys with Ms. Reynolds created a conflict that led to poor counsel. In other words, they may have asked for mercy, had Ms. Reynolds not been cheering them and their attorney to place everything on the line.
As I’ve written many times, the use of opioids for chronic pain is a complicated issue, with no clear ‘good’ or ‘bad’ side. As in most of life’s challenges, the extremes of each position appear…. extreme. Ms. Reynolds believed that the Controlled Substances Act should be repealed; I find it difficult to understand how any educated person would adopt such an approach. But the extreme opposite side leads to enough fear, in physicians, to stifle the use of narcotic pain relievers in people who truly need such relief. As for me, I keep trying to straddle the wide middle.