One warm, summer afternoon in 1976, Tanya Twoteeth was crossing Green Meadow to play at a friend’s house.
Her life changed in an instant.
“I was hit by a car when I was four and a half,” she said.
The hit and run incident caused 15 breaks in her right leg between her knee and her ankle, fractured her skull and tore a chunk of skin from her leg, leaving a significant scar still visible today.
“To this day if I sit in the wrong position or if I sit on my knees, it (my kneecap) will catch itself and my knee will almost slip off,” said Twoteeth, now 41, her frown and furrowed brow illuminated in the dim light of her home in the Helena valley.
Twoteeth exists in the dizzying world of chronic pain.
Many of Twoteeth’s bones did not grow normally due to a lack of medical technology to treat her injuries at the time.
The pain also causes the 5-foot-5-inch woman to fight a losing battle with maintaining a healthy weight.
She’s fluctuated from a low of 99 pounds to a high of 127 pounds. She currently weighs in at a mere 118 pounds.
For years she chewed her pain medication rather than swallowing it whole – she said it takes effect faster that way – and, as a result, has lost a number of her teeth. She now wears a full set of dentures.
Twoteeth says she’s been characterized as a meth addict and discriminated against for taking her native husband’s last name.
She’s struggled with shifting discs in her back and keeping the years-old skin graft on her right leg healthy.
Because of the growing stigma associated with opiates and abuse, she has found it challenging to get the medicine she said she needs in order to function.
“I almost can’t do anything without them,” she said. “I hurt. I get stiff. I get muscle spasms.”
Twoteeth said she knows the difference between treating her pain and feeding an addiction to narcot-ics.
After a botched surgery attempting to reconstruct her twisted back in 2002, she was put on disability and subsequently on 200 mg of OxyContin each day for over three years.
“With the OxyContin I was basically wasted,” Twoteeh said. “I was so doped up I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.
“Then your body gets used to it and your body wants more.”
“I felt more like I was just feeding an addiction,” she said. “It became a problem.”
Five years ago, she went to Dr. Chris Christensen’s medical practice in Florence and was put on a new, rigid pain management program.
She started seeing a drug counselor and was prescribed a combination of a low dose of Methadone and medical marijuana to help her combat her daily ailments.
“I gained almost 30 pounds with the program,” said Twoteeth. “I can do things. I can enjoy life.
“I was more pain free with that on the Methadone and the marijuana than I’ve ever been in my life,” she said.
And then in April Ravalli County deputies, state and federal authorities and Drug Enforcement Ad-ministration agents raided Christensen’s clinic. The doors were locked and his license was suspended indefinitely.
Though no charges have yet been filed, accusations against him include overprescribing, two drug overdose deaths and a fraudulent, cash-only practice.
Twoteeth was devastated.
“I wanted to cry,” she said. “I still do.”
Unable to fill her prescriptions, Twoteeth said she has been reduced to a shell of the person she was on Christensen’s program.
“I’ve had to go on the streets a couple times,” said Twoteeth, as tears rolled down her face. “They’re making me a criminal and it’s not fair, because I’m in pain.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I need a doctor.”