A Montana Pain Story – Again Going the Wrong Way

A Montana Pain Story – Again Going the Wrong Way

It started innocently enough on Facebook. I received a message from Fred Pfeiffer who had worked in broadcasting in Montana when I did (back in the Stone Age). Fred had become a very well-known and even better liked TV weatherman–which given the weather in Great Falls, Montana is no mean feat.

But he wasn’t contacting me to talk broadcasting or to swap old war stories—he had seen my name on the National Pain Report and wanted to tell me a story–one that has become much too common.

The story was about was happening to his beloved wife–“Vi”.

Now both Fred and Vi have suffered back problems and undergone surgery–although in Vi’s case the surgeries were numerous–eight in all.

Both have spinal cord stimulators—in fact the customers service reps at Boston Scientific–call them the “twins”.

But it’s Vi’s continuing battle with pain–and the inability to get a doctor to act–that is today’s story.

Vi and Fred lived in Great Falls for many years, but upon retirement moved recently to Helena, which is the state capital. What also has been happening is that Vi’s medication is being reduced–arbitrarily.

“She had been taking 2 40s each day which maintained a good quality of life,” said Fred Pfeiffer. “But the doctor has simply decided to get her off OxyContin for reasons he has not really articulated.”

So her dosage is being reduced monthly by 10 mg. She’s currently on 20 mg twice a day—which will be reduced to 10 later this month and ultimately to zero late in March.

“The tapering is destroying her quality of life,” said Pfeiffer.

For Dr. Terri Lewis, a Montana native whose survey of pain patients has attracted some 3500 persons across the U.S., what is happening to Vi Pfeiffer is happening too often in her native state.

“Montana is one of several states where the pain patient is literally under attack,” she said. “The phobia about opioids has overwhelmed a basic element of care—how to best treat people with intractable pain.”

For the Pfeiffers, who are seeing the retirement they envisioned slipping away gripped by Vi’s relentless pain, they even went to an addiction specialist who told them “what you need is a real pain management doctor who will get her on the medicine she needs.”

She’s not an addict, they said, but she’s dependent on the medication to maintain her lifestyle and wondered aloud why her doctor was forcing her off the opioid medication. Meanwhile, she lives in constant pain with “lots of plates and screws in her neck and lumbar region,” and no one that can answer the basic question of millions of pain patients.

“Can you do something about my pain?”

Their battle will continue—they are planning to drive 90 miles up the snow packed I-15 up to Great Falls see her primary care doctor again soon, hoping that their primary care physician of 25 years will either, as Fred said, “come to his senses and send us somewhere Vi can get relief.”

“This is so horrible to watch what is happening to the woman I love and adore. I’m not sure what to do, but we’ll keep trying,” he said.

If you haven’t filled out the largest pain patient survey ever taken, you can do so here.

To follow on Twitter:



@tal7291 (Dr. Terri Lewis)

Subscribe to our blog via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Authored by: Ed Coghlan

newest oldest
Notify of
Alan Edwards

What your article describes is in the median of what I have experienced and it is nationwide. I am at the extreme of patient horror stories- I am alone and going lame. I see about 90 doctors and clinicians a year. Before my tapering, I was doing well despite brain damage, cerebral palsy, and severe multi comorbid spinal disease. After tapering, my conditions worsened rapidly, and with the help of harmful drug and treatment substitutes, meant to supplant my opioids entirely, I nearly died from amitriptyline withdrawal and went nearly lame despite the claims and direction of the fda, cdc, dea, and doj. Their knowledge of intractable pain and diseases is nil and aimed at eliminating all so-called controlled substances. They are succeeding. My life is destroyed and I have to prepare for death- caused by the government acronyms, local pharmacy/police, and doctors.

Pain patients with incurable diseases, who live alone, have gone lame, are victims of the government of the USA and their immorality.

Marci King Marsh

I am a Montana pain patient. I have several pain issues due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkins Lymphoma and stage IIIC rectal cancer. Last week I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia on top of everything else. I am being tapered too. I will soon be like the lady in the article. All we want is to be able to get out of bed. Or take a shower……make some lunch. Pain stops us from being able to function. People need to wake up and see what this movement is doing to people who live in pain and their lives

Dan Pottman

I see this everyday. I have had ms now for 30 years. I came to Fl 6 years ago because mmy brother kicked me out of a apartment I. built.
The doctors not only force tapered me off a med I used for 11 years. I started on pain killers well before the so called Oxy invasion. I was there for that. Neuro slid me a pack of 2 40mg Oxycontin and told me it Might help me not take as many percocets. After 2 months I discontinued them. What was the point of adding percocets if these were supposed to last 12 hours. Every doctor I have dealt with has always told me this to remember: there is no such thing as too many opiods . Tolerance is huge. For 6 years I have laid in a 12×16 bedroom wanting to die and knowing I will do it since the ms has me in pain all over. I gave up the day that doctor and others took a well planned canvas proven for 20 years—and tossed it out the window. I am sorry, but death is my only way out. I have no one


There is a group of lawyers that I contacted about our plight on a web site called Judicial Watch . com it is kinda difficult to find the contact info on their site …

Judicial Watch is a group of lawyers that go after those in power/ Government etc that abuse their power
I am Begging people to please send in your story to Judicial Watch Please tell them you are limited in care,refused care lost a loved 1 to suicide or street drugs due to pain, or considered these as your only options …….
Will anyone join me in contacting them and fighting for our RIGHTS for humane treatment for those in Pain !!
is there any way we can get a Chronic pain petition going on several sites to go after CDC to get the guidelines removed and stop Government from interference in doctor patient treatment…
I do believe if Medicare for all ever goes into effect OUR struggle will be 10 times worse ,and Chronic Pain Patients will be given assisted suicide as law …I am scared and everyone else should be too,if people are able to have abortion in 3rd term or after birth of a baby are the elderly,vets that are injured and disabled next ?
I just feel the chronic Pain community is being attacked and we are a Budget cut cause they would rather we off ourselves in my area the Government is succeeding 5 people have committed suicide within the last 2 years

Cynthia Fithian

I recently went to my monthly dr. Appt. Pain management. It seems because I take something for IBS they consider a barbiturate my opioids will be reduced by # and dose. IBS med is only taken sporadically 1 pill. But I guess it comes up in urine test. My pain is chronic after a back and neck surgery. However I have reduced my opioid usage by half but decreasing it any further will mean decreased functioning. I have had no adverse reactions and have been taking these meds together for years. What is going on?? The dr. Is off base with this. I feel like I’m being used to get their numbers right for the government report. It’s arbitrary to reduce my meds and dose. They are not even high. I hate not having control of my life. Pain and symptoms have already taken control of so much.

I was in the very situation in Helena myself, from 2013-2015 and was part of the storm that revolved around Dr. Mark Ibsen M.D.. Dr. Ibsen is one of those Drs. who gets it about pain. He calls pain a “F**king terrorist”, which in my long experience with pain sums it up quite well. He openly went against the local and state thinking about pain-he treated the pain appropriately and did his very best to keep his patients from getting addicted. He also understood the difference between acute, short-term pain and chronic pain that never goes away. So if one of his patients needed narcotics for their chronic pain he gave them what they needed. The state and local powers-that-be didn’t like his thinking and began a long legal battle to strip him of his livelihood, his license, and his helping people. It ended with Dr. Ibsen taking the powers-that-be to federal court where he won under a “Denial of Due Cause” in the “persecution” of his case. Although Dr. Ibsen lost his practice and now practices pain management with marijuana. I would suggest for the people in your article to investigate an intrathecal pain pump, possibly in Billings or out of state. Sorry, but Mt. is light years behind the times when it comes to good medicine. By all means avoid St. Peter’s hospital in Helena even in a life or death situation; have medical helicopter transport you to Bozeman or Billings. I was a flight paramedic once upon a time, trust me on this.


Kris aaron very well said. The DEA is paid per bust on Drs….that’s incentive. Peace

Louis Ogden

I am so sorry you are going through this. Our country is losing its capacity to treat each other with dignity, kindness and love. There are times when opioids are called for and this is certainly one of those times. Let’s stop mistreating people in pain.

Jeffey Ulrich

Simple…..Sue the [edit]… file a complaint with the state board and ama. Also file a complaint with the lapdogs of the government….the cdc…

April Dawn

This is happening to me to – I am being forced to taper down 2 pain medications (on extended and one break through – at the same time complete taper off of Lorazapam – an anxiety medication that is known to be as difficult and serious to taper off as heroin. My life is a living hell now. I have taken pain medications for over a decade – responsibly – never any problems with it – medical or other wise. Now I have had several medical emergencies – going to the ER for the first time in 15 YEARS.. ever single day and night is torture, my body and mind are falling apart – all for no reason. I am powerless to stop it. I am disabled to the point of not leaving the apartment for weeks.

Tammy Cole

I am 59 years old never used or abuse drugs and/or alcohol in my 59 years. Two years ago after having surgery to remove some lypomas I started have severe pain in my shoulder and arm, unrelenting pain after seeing my PC, physical therapy, tens unit, speaking to therapist learning relaxation therapy I was referred to pain management. Pain management after reviewing my records but me on a low dose 5mg percoset…I thought after all I had read I would feel high, whatever high feels like, but all I felt was some relief, I still hurt but was managible I was able to shower with out crying, was my on dishes ect… then my pain doctors told me they we required to do multi aproach pain meds plus something! Due to my immune disorder I wasn’t a candidate for steroid injections, or a pump to be installed (which by the way us not FDA approved) they gave me gabphenton not because I needed it or they thought it wld help but because they are required to do more than pain meds, the gabphenton trigger asthma attacks, so they gave me muscle relaxant which cause me to sleep 14/15 hrs a night…ultimately they took me off everything but the low dose percoset, everything fine for 3 months then I get a letter dropping me from the program saying I wasn’t getting better. They abandoned me because the only thing I needed was a low dose 5mg percoset to allow me some quality of life, if I could have taken other drugs, or had a pump installed or injections in my spine I wld still be taking my low dose percoset and have some quality of life. I am back to being in bed 90% of the time someone else fixing my food, doing my shopping. Every now & then I can get help from a friend but before they canceled me I would have never considered taking someone else’s medicine. When Your In Constant Pain You Will Do Anything To STOP the pain.

Helen Courtois

Until the end of 2017 I was blessed to have some quality in my life. In November 2017 I had a scheduled right hip replacement, They couldn’t wait to send me out the door the next day(I couldn’t even stand alone). Well the following evening trying desperately to get to the bathroom I fell injuring my right femur. I spent the night in ER treated absolutely horrible, the xray tech yelled at me, told me if I would quit moving my leg wouldn’t hurt. The nurses were a little better, I never even saw a MD. Finally at 0500 my husband and I got home. I was told that there was nothing wrong with me!! Two hours later the phone started ringing, my husband told me it was the doctors office. I said, I don’t want to ever talk to them again!!! They continued to call finally my husband answered only to find out that the person calling was my ortho surgeon to tell me that he had been contacted by the radiologist to let him know I had a fractured femur. The ER doctor had missed it, I could see the fracture myself. He called an ambulance and they took me back to the hospital that I had just left. After 3 units of blood my hemoglobin was up to 9. Four days later they operated and did a ORIF(open reduction, and internal fixation). Three days later they sent me home. My dr was a nice gentleman, the nurses and therapist were mean. I was home one week when somehow I fell again. I could not move to reach my phone, 3 hours later my cousin and PT came and found me. Another ambulance ride, this time I had to go to a trauma Center because of the blood loss and two more fractures in my right leg plus the hip replacement had popped right out. Well at least there they knocked me out with a PCA/Thank God!!! He also had to put an 18″ rod between my hip and into my leg. More blood transfusions and they were on the war path to discharge me. Unbelievable!! They sent me home with NO pain medication. My home health nurse was shocked, she called him repeatedly but “NO” was the answer. My recovery is painfu


Fred and Vi, I’m so sorry…I am sorry for you, me , all of us. I have written the President, my
Senators, FDA, anyone that was suggested and have signed everything there is to sign in our pain groups.
I’m sooo tired. 3 months ago I tried another pain management due to the one I was going to was cutting me back They turned out to be a pill mill. I am treated like DIRT! I was better off at my other pain management! All i do on a daily basis is bust out in tears. I’m 60 years old, was was doing fine before the CDC jumped in.This is so wrong. God forgive them…they know not what they are doing.

Prayers to you and Vi and for all of us. ❤❤


Yes, definitely going the wrong way!


Unfortunately the rest of the people are starting to get the same treatment a lot of us have been dealing with for a few years. By 2020 everyone will understand the far reaching heartbreak of what our government has been doing in the open but in secret. There will be no relief for pain sufferers and it will take many years to turn around what they are putting into law. Most of the public are still blissfully unaware of what’s really going on.

Kris Aaron

When pain patients are confronted with the choice of living in agony for the remainder of their lives or making a visit to Dr. Ruger, I’m beyond horrified and enraged.
I don’t know if it’s easier to get opiates in another country, but if I lose what’s left of my prescription I’ll be seriously considering relocating permanently to the other side of Trump’s “lifesaving” wall.
Our elected officials do NOT give a [edit] about us or the hell we’re going through! We have false statistics, panicked politicians, and the Drug Enforcement Agency employees who are terrified the DEA will be seen as irrelevant and disbanded to thank for our suffering. Ever since cannabis has been legalized in various states — with more considering it — federal and state drug convictions have drastically decreased.
The DEA relies heavily on cannabis remaining illegal to pump up the numbers that justify their existence. They do NOT want taxpayers to ask if it’s worth the expense of keeping their doors open. Doctors are much easier to prosecute than cartels — they’re conveniently located in the US (no need to extradite from a foreign country). They have valuable property that can be confiscated and sold using asset forfeiture laws, with proceeds going directly to the agency that made the bust.
And doctors don’t shoot back. Many don’t even own a gun, unlike the cartels that boast firepower often exceeding what the agents carry. Doctors are a virtually risk-free bust!
Helping the DEA are malpractice insurers that increase the cost of premiums to any physician brave enough to prescribe opiates for ANY reason.
The “war on drugs”, which has been a resounding failure since Richard Nixon introduced it in the early 1970s, has come home to pain patients who have never so much as touched an illegal narcotic. We are collateral in the wasteful, unjustifiable disaster that is America attempting — and failing — to stop adults from voluntarily putting a substance into their bodies.

Barbara H Sawicki

The abhorrent torture of intractable pain patients in this country is criminal in my opinion. To force those suffering cronic intractable pain into letting doctors butcher them with the hope of less pain is in my opinion adding aditional torture. Then after all the broken hopes of the patient of getting relief to have their medication which does help them manage their pain denied falls in the lines of experimental medical torture = the resurection of Dr Mengele. All this is going on while the junkies who live the culture of drug abuse are coddled with safe injection sites suplied with suboxone and other drugs to hold them over untill they afford their next fix. Then just in case they overdose on their illegal drugs they have narcan so they can do it again! Boy we live in a sick world. It is a shame there is no medicine for stupidity! But here we ase developing new drugs for cronic pain”care to be our gunnie pig” have you moticed the adverse reactions? ???

Rebecca Hollingsworth

You are not alone. Millions of us are suffering with you. My husband and I are both chronic pain sufferers. In January our pain management doctor of 10 years discharged us as patients and put us on a forced taper. I have calculated that I have approximately another 2 months that I can work. Golden years? What’s that? This needs to stop. The CDC guidelines were aimed at primary care providers not pain management specialists. I think I can answer your question concerning your doctor and his motives. They are being strong-armed by the government to stop prescribing opioids. They are being threatened, yes threatened with jail time and license revocation. This treatment of chronic pain sufferers needs to stop. Its inhumane and unwarranted. It doesnt matter that we dont abuse our medication or not, they dont care. Praying for all who are suffering. I’m fighting by contacting my senators, congress people and anyone else I feel will not only listen, but act. Please answer the survey by the HHS and tell your story. We need you.

Afraid to say my name

This is so heartbreaking. My husband and I are in a similar situation – 5 back surgeries for him and 3 for me. Our meds keep the pain at a constant 4 -5 on the pain scale but we can function. The expectation is that we will be on meds for the reat of our lives as no more surgeries can be performed and other options have not worked.We do not abuse our meds in any way and follow the doctor’s instructions exactly. I have a constant fear that we will be forced to taper and get off them entirely. If this happens, I know my only option will be suicide. This is a sad reality and future I think about every day. I pray that the legislators who have forgotten or don’t care about those of us in chronic pain will come to their senses instead of being blinded by the actual drug abusers who have affected the drug related deaths. Where are the stat6that show how many people successfully, quietly are following their physicians’ instructions and benefit from long term opioid therapy. What about us? Another suicide just doesn’t matter to them because we are the quietly suffering masses that did not ask to be hurt every day but are being exploited in the name of drug abuse and politics.

I write this with tears rolling down my face. What on God’s green earth is happening to all of us?! Why are they doing this to all of us, we are good people with a disease called chronic pain. We’re losing the only thing that gave us the ability to live a productive life. I wish I knew the answer but I don’t. Fred and Vi if you are reading this, I will keep you in my prayers for miracles and ask others I know as well to pray. May God bless you both as well as all of my brothers and sisters who seem to be losing this battle. You too Ed, you see now, your work is not in vain.💕

Lori T.

Another heartbreaking story it grieves me to say. I am beyond stunned at the lack of pain care in America. I am concerned for pain patients everywhere. I can only hope that the war on opiates gets stopped dead in it tracks before the suicide rates from uncontrolled pain skyrocket even higher. Maybe a move to another state might be in order for Vi and Fred. It’s a tough choice to leave your home behind, but if quality of life improves with a move to another state that doesn’t have such horrible opioid restrictions, it may be worth all the effort and cost. If it comes down to a move, make sure you check out all the current state laws in the state you plan to live in. Have your complete medical file with you when you leave Montana. Get recommendations from doctors that have treated you in the past prior to picking up and leaving. Check to see if medical marijuana is available in the state you would seek to go to. I live in Missouri which seems to still be appropriately taking care of their intractable pain patients. I am a pain patient who lives in Missouri and so far, so good. Also Missouri has just passed medical marijuana in the last election cycle. If all stays on track, we should have dispenseries up and going by this time next year. Many pain patients are currently being helped with the use of cannibis. I hope this info helps. It is a real tough call. But living in intractable pain should not have to be an option. There is help out there for those who seek it. I wish Fred and Vi the best of luck and hopefully help will be found soon. Great article by Ed Coghlan.


I am so sickened to continue to hear the same stories over and over again about this ridiculous and absurd tapering docs are doing to us, yep me too, over a CDC SUGGESTION for a first time opioid user who has NEVER used them before. Actually to start my pain management doc decided he was NO LONGER going to prescribe me my meds,, yep left me high and dry AFTER A DECADE, and we all know why, thank God my primary stepped in until I find a new doc to which after now 5 months I have yet to find and again we all know why BUT my primary insists on this taper down to the 90% MME, lolololol a 20 veteran of taking opioids for my intractable pain, lololol, MY GOD WHAT ARE THEY THINKING and all over a SUGGESTION from a group of people who know nothing about OUR pain wow, WHEN DID IT BECOME PILL MANAGEMENT AND NOT PAIN MANAGEMENT????? All to lessen the deaths to over doses by abusers WHAT??? To now have an increase of suicides from non abusers. And when did these people earn the right to tell our doctors how to do their jobs, LIKE SAVING LIVES, and forcing them to take them from us?? OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING??? Vi and Fred, I am so sorry to hear your plight, I am right there with you, AND ALL I CAN DO IS HOPE AND PRAY FOR U, FOR US, FOR ALL OF US, THAT THIS CRAZINESS AND MADNESS STOPS ! GOD HAVE MERCY UPON ALL OUR SOULS, AND GET THE GOVERNMENT, DEA AND THE CDC OUT OF OUR DOCTORS OFFICES AND OUR LIVES PLEASE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am not quite sure why this story is so shocking or surprising. It is however pathetic, infuriating, sickening and inhumane. The government is only doing what they said they would and now is exicuting on the GUIDLINE FOR PRESCRIBING otherwise known as the law. E for effort Doctor Tennant. Sorry, no pun intended and not being unsympathetic. Any CPP that cannot torerate pain at 90 mme is being terminated. THAT IS THE UNDENIABLE, UNMISTAKABLE AND UNBELIVABLE TRUTH. AGAIN, THE CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS are eaters, not sustainable and so therfore must be PUT TO DEATH. IT IS AS PLAIN AND SIMPLE AS THAT. The question is, as a group why did the doctors allow it? Fear for a paycheck! It always goes back to good old BING. Pain kills unlike all the alternative treatment proponents believe. Hey president Trump, WTH?

Karl Zaremba

This is commonly happening all over the country. A helpless feeling for many.


I pray her doctor know’s code of ethics |||