Siobhan Reynolds, RIP

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I’m saddened to learn this morning that Siobhan Reynolds was killed 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 tireless and fierce. She ran her advocacy group the Pain Relief Network on a thin budget. She often used her own money to travel to towns and cities where she felt prosecutors were unfairly targeting a doctor. Then she’d fight back. And sometimes she’d win. The DEA and federal prosecutors she fought weren’t really accustomed to that. They were accustomed to holding self-promoting press conferences where they’d hold up big bags of pills, thus winning glowing write-ups from doting, unskeptical journalists. Reynolds put those bags of pills into context. She talked about the lives made livable with opiate therapy. She encouraged pain patients whose lives these doctors saved to speak up and speak out. And she educated journalists.

There aren’t very many people who can claim that they’ve 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 often 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 patients with long-term chronic pain. And because of the government’s harassment, there are increasingly fewer doctors willing to treat them. Thanks to Reynolds, the major newsweeklies, the New York Times, and a number of other national media outlets began asking if the DEA’s war on pain doctors had gone too far.

Reynolds’ passion stemmed from watching her ex-husband agonize from his pain, and later her belief that his death was due to his inability to get treatment. She was haunted by the prospect that her son could inherit the same condition and face the same obstacles. What infuriated her  most was that this was never a problem of not knowing what relieves chronic pain. This wasn’t about the need for more research. Her husband had found relief in high-dose opioid therapy. The problem was that in its ceaseless efforts to stop people from getting high, the government had blocked that relief, imprisoned the doctor who administered it, and thus condemned her husband to suffer. (Watch The Chilling Effect, the movie Reynolds produced about her ex-husband’s fight here.)

Reynolds was admirably persistent. I often thought she was often a bit too idealistic, or at least that she set her goals too high. She told me once that she wouldn’t consider her work done until the Supreme Court declared the Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional. That’s an admirable goal, but not a particularly practical one. 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 did begin to win her battles. She deserves a good deal of the credit for getting Richard Paey out of prison. She got some sentences overturned, and connected accused doctors to attorneys who know the proper way to fight for them in court. That led to some acquittals.

Of course, the government doesn’t like a rabble-rouser. It’s especially wary of rabble-rousers who start to accumulate victories. And so as Reynolds’ advocacy began to move the ball and get real results, the government hit back. When Reynolds began a campaign on behalf of Kansas physician Stephen Schneider, who had been indicted for over-prescribing painkillers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway launched a blatantly vindictive attack on Reynolds’ right to free speech. Treadway opened a criminal investigation into Reynolds and her organization, attempting to paint Reynolds’ advocacy as obstruction of justice. Treadway then issued a sweeping subpoena for all email correspondence, phone records, and other documents that, had Reynolds complied, would have meant the end of her organization. Treadway wanted records of Reynolds’ private conversations with attorneys, doctors, and pain patients and their families. It was unconscionable. The government was demanding that she turn over all records of her conversations with suffering patients. (Some of whom undoubtedly sought out extra-legal ways to relieve their pain, since the government had made it impossible for them to find legal 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, was able to keep the entire fight sealed. The briefs for the case are secret. The judges’ rulings are secret. Reynolds was barred from sharing her own briefs with the press. Perversely, Treadway had used the very grand jury secrecy intended to protect Reynolds as a gag to censor her. The case was a startling example not only of how far a prosecutor will go to tear down a critic, but of how much power they have to do so.

The sad thing is that 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. It was a transparent and malicious effort to neutralize a pestering 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.

Reynolds was an unwearying, unwavering activist for personal freedom. She not only became a martyr for the rights of pain patients, but also for free expression and political dissent.

And she died fighting.

Rest in peace.

UPDATE: More tributes to Reynolds from Jacob Sullum, David Borden, and Robert Higgs. Higgs quotes from an email he sent to Reynolds two days before her death:

You have had no way to have known, but you have been one of my heroes (and I have very few) ever since I learned, more or less by chance, about your efforts on behalf of people denied pain relief by the whole congeries of sadistic government laws, functionaries, and activities aimed at keeping them in pain. I have the greatest respect for you and the few others who have the courage to do something concrete to fight the power.

Please accept my very best wishes for a happy Christmas and for better days to come. And please know, too, of the great esteem in which I hold you.

UPDATE II: Richard Paey’s wife Linda left this in the comments:

Siobhan, an amazing force focused on defending the rights of people in pain and their doctors, she was relentless in this pursuit. My husband and I owe her a debt of gratitude, one that we could never repay. Siobhan was responsible for moving the nation to support the release of my husband, Richard Paey from a Florida prison. Her impact on pain patients and the issue of undertreatment of pain is her legacy. We will all miss her loud and strong voice. My heart and my prayers goes out to her son.



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60 Responses to “Siobhan Reynolds, RIP”

  1. #1 |  Leah | 

    Oh how awful. I hope this at least creates an opportunity to share her cause with a wider audience. But what a tragedy.

  2. #2 |  nicole | 

    I’m beyond sorry to hear this, but thanks once again, Radley, for reporting on Reynolds and her work.

  3. #3 |  The Rabbi's rabbit | 

    I usually don’t believe in those kinds of things, but what are the chances there was something behind the plane crash?

  4. #4 |  Mugen | 

    This makes me very sad…

  5. #5 |  RandomDude | 

    #3- reading the article, it appears like a pretty straightforward error on landing. Gov’t would done a cleaner job.

  6. #6 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Radley, I hope you’ll keep tabs on Tonya Treadway. I’m sure that Siobhan Reynolds will not be the last innocent person that vicious little shyster will attack.


  7. #7 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Rest in Peace: Siobhan Reynolds | 

    […] can think of no finer eulogy than the one given by Radley Balko on The Agitator: There aren’t very many people who can claim that they personally changed the public debate about […]

  8. #8 |  Judi | 

    She will be missed.

  9. #9 |  Lester Hunt | 

    Undertreatment of chronic pain is an area in which overregulation causes terrible suffering. We really need people like her. RIP.

  10. #10 |  Diane Fornbacher | 

    “As a patriot, I am doing this to try to defend the liberty and interests of people in pain…grown ups should be free to take what they need to get by, there’s no reason people should be forced to deteriorate.”

    -Siobhan Reynolds

  11. #11 |  Joshua | 


    I’m not saying she did it. In fact she probably didn’t. But she had motive, so I think a very intrusive grand jury investigation would certainly be justified.

  12. #12 |  Rest in Peace, Siobhan | Absurd Results | 

    […] Rest in Peace, Siobhan Posted on December 26, 2011 Siobhan Reynolds died this weekend in a plane crash. This is a huge loss for the cause of liberty, for she had fought bravely and indefatigably in the War on the War on Drugs. Radley Balko has a write-up here. […]

  13. #13 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    May Tonya Treadway, and all those like her, burn in Hell for what they have done.

  14. #14 |  dean | 

    Tanya Treadway is a modern day Mabel Walker Willebrandt (armed with a gun). Pure evil.

  15. #15 |  Henry C. Alphin Jr. | Discursive Philosophical Thought » Blog Archive » Balko on the the government’s pursuit of Siobhan Reynolds | 

    […] […]

  16. #16 |  the innominate one | 

    What Kim Jong-il died last week, atheists I know said he was the kind of person who made them wish there was a hell for him to suffer in. I agreed with that. Siobhan Reynolds makes me wish that there is a heaven for her and her husband to find pain-free peace in. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t.

  17. #17 |  Siobhan Reynolds (1951-2011), a True American Heroine | The Beacon | 

    […] to whose life and heroic deeds Radley Balko has paid fitting tribute, sought not to cause pain, as the military “heroes” do, but to alleviate it. She was […]

  18. #18 |  Pain Patient Advocate Siobhan Reynolds Dies in Plash Crash - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine | 

    […] Radley Balko, who has an appreciation of Reynolds at The Agitator. More on Reynolds here. More on pain treatment […]

  19. #19 |  Pasquin | 

    I’ve never met Siobhan. Just knew her from Facebook.

    She always had time to interact and take an interest in her followers. Not one to just broadcast and not reciprocate. Her personal story, and passion to her cause, personally opened my eyes to an issue that I had previously never considered.

    I can only wish for half as good an epitaph.

  20. #20 |  Pain Patient Advocate Siobhan Reynolds Dies in Plane Crash | Libertarios of America | 

    […] Radley Balko, who has an appreciation of Reynolds at The Agitator. More on Reynolds here. More on pain treatment […]

  21. #21 |  Siobhan Reynolds, a true hero, RIP | | 

    […] And she died fighting. Rest in peace.  (See story and video) […]

  22. #22 |  croaker | 

    @8 Future punishment in some nebulous afterlife doesn’t fly with me. Chron’s Disease, or a never-ending series of kidney stones would be much better karmic revenge. And if I was a doctor treating that bitch, she’d get an Advil.

  23. #23 |  CharlesWT | 

    More painkiller panic:

    Painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin worries addiction experts

  24. #24 |  Linda Paey | 

    Siobhan, an amazing force focused on defending the rights of people in pain and their doctors, she was relentless in this pursuit. My husband and I owe her a debt of gratitude, one that we could never repay. Siobhan was responsible for moving the nation to support the release of my husband, Richard Paey from a Florida prison. Her impact on pain patients and the issue of undertreatment of pain is her legacy. We will all miss her loud and strong voice. My heart and my prayers goes out to her son.

  25. #25 |  Instapundit » Blog Archive » ANTI-PAIN ACTIVIST AND DEA GADFLY SIOBHAN REYNOLDS died in a plane crash this weekend. She’s no rel… | 

    […] ACTIVIST AND DEA GADFLY SIOBHAN REYNOLDS died in a plane crash this weekend. She’s no relation, but I’ve admired her […]

  26. #26 |  picachu | 

    So does this mean that if you get involved in any activism at all you shouldn’t keep any records more than what the government forces you to? Don’t do email or any of that shit? Could an organization function without producing anything to subpoena? I don’t actually know enough about it to have an opinion but was just wondering aloud.

  27. #27 |  Kevin | 

    “you shouldn’t keep any records more than what the government forces you to?”

    No, you get a Jd from a 5th rate school, pass the bar and then claim it’s attorney-client communication.

  28. #28 |  SC88 | 

    #3, That thought also crossed my mind – whether the plane crash was a true accident. And isn’t that a sad commentary on the state of our government and the kind of people who “lead” us.

  29. #29 |  Sean |

    It’s interesting how before it’s even available it’s a threat. There’s only one sentence about the positive uses of this drug.

  30. #30 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Treadway is a piece of shit. Prosecutors are pieces of shit. Our country is becoming a piece of shit.

  31. #31 |  John Chase | 

    Without Siobhan’s activism, Richard Paey might still be serving his 25 year mandatory minimum sentence in the Florida Prison system. I first become aware of the Paey case in August 2002, five years after local law enforcement, masked and guns drawn, raided his home to arrest him for using ‘too much’ painkiller.

    I saw Richard’s trial approaching and took the time to introduce myself to Siobhan at the 2003 DPA conference to ask her to become involved. It was an easy sell because I think she was already aware if it. My main contribution was to introduce her to Linda Paey. She attended Richard’s trial (He was convicted. It was his 3rd trial, by the same prosecutor.)

    The only bright spot was as we walked out of the courtroom into a crowded hallway. Siobhan turned to the prosecutor, who stood about two heads taller. She shook her finger at him with “you should be ashamed of yourself!” He started to answer with “You don’t know me…”, but she interrupted with “Well, I know what you did and I don’t see how you can sleep at night!”. Then, without another word she spun around and walked away. That was in March 2004. Then she took the story national, and that made all the difference.

    I was present in the home of a friend here in Palm Harbor during the filming of “The Chilling Effect”, Siobhan’s one hour DVD that includes much conversion between Linda and Siobhan. According to her it was the first time she had a chance to talk to the wife of another pain patient, now on the record. I was in the Tallahassee Cabinet Room in Sept 2007 when Gov Charlie Crist moved for a full pardon and was supported by his Clemency Board. By then Siobhan was already working on other cases.

    As I look back I see how much work by so many people — esp by Siobhan — was required to free just one wrongly convicted person. But just because it is hard is no reason not to do it, and each time it spreads the word to the public. She did that, and I honor her for it.

  32. #32 |  Rick | 

    I knew her briefly, all too briefly, and the fact of her demise should not diminish the cause. I’m pretty much at a loss for words, other than what others that are more well informed, and knew her better, have said.

  33. #33 |  Ariel | 


    As an atheist, I agree with both sentiments. Read something on the web, maybe at Popehat, maybe here, but it goes as follows: “When someone dies we are supposed to say good. Kim Jong-Il has died. Good.”

    “Treadway had used the very grand jury secrecy intended to protect Reynolds as a gag to censor her,” a perversion of what this country is really about. With this, when Treadway dies I will only be able to say good.

    I’ve read before about Siohban Reynold’s fight and I can only say the world has lost someone good, and it was tragic we lost her.

  34. #34 |  Siobhan Reynolds: Lioness Rampant | Ducks and Economics | 

    […] needs some introduction, and you will get some from this post. But you should also first read Radley Balko’s tribute at The Agitator for […]

  35. #35 |  Jim Raker | 

    As an Internal Medicine physician for a quarter of a century I can tell you its not hard to treat chronic pain. Its not hard to tell those who are drug seekers from true sufferers and its not hard to treat folks who have “some” pain or temporary pain with less or non-addictive medications. The trouble with modern medicine is the loss of the doctor patient relationship. A few minutes with the physician you have bonded with, who knows you and your circumstance in life is all it takes to make the right decision. That mistakes continue to be made, both for too much and too little treatment, is a tragedy that can easily be fixed by just a bit more teaching and a bit more time by the doc.

  36. #36 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Linda Paey, my heart goes out to you and your husband. I know Siobhan will never be replaced, but she inspired thousands to speak up against the injustice of a government devoid of compassion, and helped many more to realize the depravity of the war on drugs.


  37. #37 |  John C. Randolph | 

    John Chase, would you please let us know the name of the man who persecuted Richard Paey after losing two previous trials? Vicious, overreaching prosecutors have a nasty habit of running for office, and I want to remember the bastard’s name so that I can be sure to support his opponent.


  38. #38 |  john | 

    When you hurt so bad you cant even move, morphine is good. It makes it not hell anymore.

  39. #39 |  Lloyd Flack | 

    John Randolph,

    The prosecutor’s name is Scott Andringa. At present he is practicing as a defence attourney. He is seeking election as a judge, aiming to replace his father when he retires.

  40. #40 |  EBL | 

    I am very sorry to hear this.

  41. #41 |  Rich | 

    Indefatigable, embodied and defined.

  42. #42 |  Siobhan Reynolds (1961-2011), a True American Heroine | FavStocks | 

    […] to whose life and heroic deeds Radley Balko has paid fitting tribute, sought not to cause pain, as the military “heroes” do, but to alleviate it. She was […]

  43. #43 |  Brett | 

    The prosecutors of the drug war will have fairly earned the pain of their final illnesses.

  44. #44 |  Joseph Moroco | 

    If this is the harassment that can be meted out, why do they need NDAA?

  45. #45 |  Siobhon Reynolds RIP « Darin R. McClure – The Good Life In San Clemente | 

    […] […]

  46. #46 |  ChurchSox | 

    Well, Lawyer Treadway, Ms. Reynolds is gone.

    Through her dogged work, she made a small but significant change in her country. So did you.

    And now, she’s gone on to heaven, so you’ll likely never see her again.

  47. #47 |  ragingmousetx | 

    Saddened to hear of the lose of one of our greatest advocates. As a pain patient I am continually confronted by doctors who treat me like an addict rather than a pain management patient.

    Now the question becomes – WHO will be willing to have the courage to pick up where she left off. WHO will be willing to be the voice for people like myself and the doctors who treat me?

    My deepest condolences to Ms. Reynold’s family.

  48. #48 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Shit. Facebook just got a lot more boring.

  49. #49 |  Common Sense with Paul Jacob » Archive » Government and Pain | 

    […] in a plane crash. I learned about this from Radley Balko, who reviewed Ms. Reynolds’s crusade at The Agitator. Her story is worth […]

  50. #50 |  Siobhan Reynolds (1961–2011), a True American Heroine | FavStocks | 

    […] to whose life and heroic deeds Radley Balko has paid fitting tribute, sought not to cause pain, as the military “heroes” do, but to alleviate it. She was […]

  51. #51 |  John Chase | 

    In response to a prior question, the prosecutor who hounded Paey through 3 trials in 10 years shifted to private practice about the time of Gov. Crist’s full pardon. I don’t know the circumstances of that shift, and I’m not sure where he is today.

  52. #52 |  Siobhan Reynolds, RIP | The Agitator « painpolicy | 

    […] Siobhan Reynolds, RIP | The Agitator Posted by Pain policy & palliative care ⋅ December 28, 2011 ⋅ Leave a Comment Siobhan Reynolds, RIP | The Agitator. […]

  53. #53 |  Ronald Libby | 

    Siobhan’s tragic passing is a blow to the movement she virtually started single-handed to guarantee access to pain-relieving medications for millions who suffer from chronic pain. She was tireless in championing this noble cause. Even faced with the enormous resources of the federal government she persevered. I have great admiration for Siopbhan’s devotion to others. My heart goes out to her son, her family and many friends. We have lost a true champion of a basic human right–to be free from needless suffering.

    Ron Libby

  54. #54 |  Siobhan Reynolds, Lioness Rampant (1961-2011) | The Puffington Host | 

    […] needs some introduction, and you will get some from this post. But you should also first read Radley Balko’s tribute at The Agitator for […]

  55. #55 |  Carol Hammond | 

    Today I learned about Siobhan Reynolds. I wish that I could have known her and her work. My Rheumatologist is retiring; he was my Dr for almost 20 years and treated me for fibromyalgia pain. My grandmother and aunt also had this terrible illness. Some doctors still don’t believe in the disease buy almost all Rheumatologist do. You literally have pain everywhere; skin, ligaments, soft tissue and in my case it never goes away; pain level is consistantly an 7-8, I am now 67 years old. I own my own business and it is extremely hard to handle all the work. For years I was taking opiates until Oxycontin became available. It is true that your body becomes dependant on all of these pain relievers but we are not “addicted”. Many people have had good outcomes with Oxycontin. It does not take away all the pain but it allows me to go through the day with the ability to deal with day to day chores or interactions with other people. For me there is no high and I have been able to stay on 20mg for many years. The sad thing is we that need pain killers are NOT the abusers but we and the doctors are being punished because of those addicts that are selling and using Oxycontin…if oxy. was not available it would be something else. My Dr just retired…I am left with trying to find a doctor that will continue on the same plan he had for me for almost 20 years. I now live in a small northern state and few if any doctor will prescribe pain pills….I will have to continue to travel 400 miles twice a year to see a doctor and then I must fax in my order monthly and the pharmacy must have a written copy of the prescription every single month. I have to pay around 150. each month for that one prescription! I am on medicare now and I am afraid that the government will put a halt to that drug. Many people live with horrible pain, many take their own lives…my grandmother did….her pain was like mine and I am scared now that I will not be able to live with this pain. Those people who do not have daily pain have no idea what it is like and many of them are our decision makers and the ones writing articles about drug abuse and running down the very drugs that are helping us. I am so sad to hear about Siobhan Reynolds. Her shoes will not be easy to fill and many of us will suffer and have to fight to get a doctor that will help us. It makes you feel like a junkie when the doctors are too afraid to do what is right. I wish they all could experience the kind of pain that we do for just a little while. God help us….but we must fight for our rights too. The problem with doing that is we hurt so bad we can not tackle the things that Siobhan Reynolds did…we have enough trouble just living day to day. We need to rally online and get organized. Please, count me in

  56. #56 |  Linda Paey | 

    Our worry is very real, the prosecutor that dragged Richard through three trials, Scott Andringa, is running for a Pinellas County judge position his father leaves open as he retires. I fully expect he will get it because nepatism is favored by the political system in Florida. Numerous friends have suggested we move out of this area, we may seriously entertain this option if Mr Andringa is indeed elected next year.

  57. #57 |  day | 

    Siobhan was the most couragous woman IV ever known. She changed my view on government. She made people wake up and see what was really in front of them not just what the government wanted to been seen. She wasn’t afraid to stand up and fight for what she knew was right. She will be missed so much. She’s a hero and a fierce fighter of injustic.. she believed in the constitution with all her heart and what this country stands for…..

  58. #58 |  Remembering a Drug Activist: Siobhan Reynolds: 1961-2011 | Points: The Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society | 

    […] lamented that she felt she was fighting a losing battle. But, as the Agitator’s Radley Balko notes, few people “can claim that they personally changed the public debate about an issue. […]

  59. #59 |  Dr. Julie Marks | 

    I knew this amazing and simply brilliant woman for over thirty years.
    Her compassion, tenacity, and depth of understanding about
    the essential use of opiates for cancer and severe pain patients
    has saved many lives and will continue to do so as she enters
    a new realm leaving us to continue her critically important
    mission. I am a pain sufferer and so is my husband and without
    appropriate treatment, millions die of untreated pain reported
    as strokes and heart attacks. Siobhan just finished a book on
    this subject educating the masses about this silent tragedy
    that ends the lives of of too many wonderful people. I never
    thought her efforts would end in this horrible and heart
    breaking tragedy. I feel for her son Ronan who is afflicted
    with the same debilitating disease of his father and now
    remains without parents. If anyone knows where I can find him,
    please e-mail I want to help the family in
    any way possible. RIP, my dear friend!

  60. #60 |  Random notes: July 13, 2012. « Whipped Cream Difficulties | 

    […] from intractable pain. Not just that; the government has stomped on the First Amendment by going after patient advocacy organizations, and has even threatened to shut down pharmacies for filling […]