Exclusive interview: 'The government crushed me with the stroke of a pen'

A longtime advocate of doctors on behalf of patients in chronic pain has become the target of an ugly grand jury investigation after she spoke out to defend a physician charged with over-medicating patients to their deaths.

Siobhan Reynolds, president of Pain Relief Network, came in the crosshairs of the Justice Department when she stood up for a Kansas doctor convicted of money laundering, health care fraud, and prescribing medication to 68 chronically ill patients who died of overdose.

The Associated Press recently reported on a "secret federal investigation" against Reynolds for ostensibly obstructing justice after she refused to turn over private e-mails with Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife Linda, who could face life in prison. Held in contempt for refusing, and threatened with large fines and possible jail time, Reynolds eventually complied and handed over the subpoenaed documents.

"The government crushed me with the stroke of a pen," Reynolds told Raw Story. "And they can do it to you too. All the DOJ has to do to you if you are an activist or a journalist is subpoena your life's work, your most private communications, the content of your political thoughts, and you have no recourse."

While accusations against Schneider are serious and the prevalence of over-medication issues has strong academic merit, what's notable is that Reynolds appears to have been targeted merely for speaking out in his defense. Her subpoena came weeks after she placed a highway billboard in Wichita declaring: "Dr. Schneider never killed anyone."

The AP describes the 49-year-old Reynolds, whose husband died in 2006 of a chronic illness that their son has inherited, as "a leading voice for pain-relief advocates." She maintains that Schneider broke no laws in prescribing medication to his patients and isn't responsible for their deaths.

"One of the most egregious things about this situation is the degree to which the government succeeds by essentially smearing the patients as 'addicts' and their doctors as 'dealers'," Reynolds said. "Thousands of vulnerable sick people who happen to need opiates in order to leave some semblance of a normal life are cut off, cast out, unable to find new care."

The Justice Department hasn't spoken about the case publicly, but prosecutors have charged in court filings that Reynolds has a "sycophantic or parasitic relationship" with the Schneiders and is using them to advance her group's agenda.

Concerns have grown over time about the extent of prescription drug usage in America.

Douglas Bremner, a clinician and researcher at Emory University, argues in his book "Before You Take That Pill: Why The Drug Industry May Be Bad For Your Health" that doctors are often persuaded by pharmaceutical companies to over-prescribe medicines to patients.

"We used to just put people on these drugs for life and not think about it, but we can no longer commit them to lifelong therapy with impunity," Dr. Thalia Segal, a pain specialist at New York University, told the New York Times in 2005. "We have to use these medications judiciously and follow people more closely. We have to rely on a much more individualized approach."

But according to Reynolds, none of that plays a role in her case -- the government deemed her an obstacle and decided to settle its score in the dark. "If we ever had a constitutional republic where the government more or less tolerated freedom of speech, we don't anymore," she said.