September 11, 2009 11:49AM

Wichita Witch Hunt

That’s the only appropriate term for the investigation of pain relief advocate Siobhan Reynolds. She is the widow of Sean Greenwood, a victim of a debilitating connective tissue disorder.

Greenwood’s doctor, William Hurwitz, prescribed the medicine that allowed him to function in spite of the condition until Hurwitz was indicted in 2003 for “illegal drug trafficking.” Greenwood could not find another doctor to prescribe his medication; doctors had been bullied into submission by vague federal statutes and aggressive prosecutors. Greenwood died three years later of a brain hemorrhage, likely brought on by the blood pressure build-up from years of untreated pain.

Siobhan Reynolds founded the Pain Relief Network, highlighting the plight of those afflicted with debilitating conditions who are unable to get the appropriate pain medication because of federal anti-drug efforts that make targets of doctors and patients alike.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wichita, Kansas, indicted physician Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, a nurse, for illegal drug trafficking in December 2007. Reynolds found an eerie parallel between Schneider’s case and the prosecution that denied her husband pain medication, so she took action. Her public relations campaign on behalf of Dr. Schneider so annoyed Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway that Treadway sought a gag order to bar Reynold’s advocacy. The presiding judge denied the gag order.

Now Treadway is investigating Reynolds for obstruction of justice. She has subpoenaed Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network for communications pertaining to the Schneider prosecution, and Reynolds is now being fined $200 a day for not complying with the subpoenas.

As Jacob Sullum notes:

Another item sought by the grand jury is a PRN documentary that discusses how the war on drugs affects pain treatment, a video [ACLU attorney Scott Michelman, who is helping represent Reynolds] calls "completely innocuous from a criminal perspective" and "absolutely protected speech." Its title, especially apt in light of Treadway's vindictive campaign against Reynolds, is The Chilling Effect.

Harvey Silverglate has a good summary of the case. Reynold’s prosecution is another example of how the federal court system has deviated from providing justice and become a system where innocent people can lose their freedom to overly broad and intentionally vague criminal statutes. Silverglate’s book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, provides an excellent survey of federal injustice.

For related Cato scholarship, check out Ronald Libby’s Policy Analysis, Treating Doctors as Drug Dealers: The DEA’s War on Prescription Painkillers.