The Pharmacist, a new docu-series which premiered on Netflix February 5th, looks at the early days of the opioid epidemic. The story centers around Dan Schneider, a pharmacist from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana who became an activist that tried to stop the spread of unlawfully prescribed opioids.
In April of ’99, Schneider’s son, Danny Jr., was fatally shot in while trying to buy crack cocaine on the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Schneider was devastated by the loss of his son. He had no idea his son was using drugs and was left questioning everything about the events of that fateful night.
The Pharmacist follows the investigation of his son’s murder conducted by police. The investigation came up cold, with police unable to gather any leads in the case. The fatal shooting took place in a community known for a culture of silence, where talking to the police means you are labeled as a “snitch” or a “grass”.
Schneider, a middle dad of two children, decided to take matters into his own hands. He took his questions to the streets of the Ninth Ware where he knocked on the doors of people who lived near where his son was killed.
As Schneider undertook a dangerous task on his own asking questions door-to-door, the police had found an eyewitness named Jeffery Hall. Hall told police he had witnessed the murder and gave information about the killer’s identity to police. In the end, Hall’s account of the incident was determined to be unreliable since the person he identified had been in jail the night of the murder. Schneider’s hope that his son’s murderer had been found was short lived. This only fueled his desire to continue the search on his own.
Schneider began to look up telephone numbers of the residents in the phone book. He called house after house, explaining his son’s murder and hoping they could help shine some light on that night.
Much of the docuseries contains segments of audio recordings made by Schneider during his search for information. He recorded every phone call he made to the local residents including Jefferey Hall, the supposed eyewitness to the murder.
After several phone calls, Schneider spoke with a woman who lived up the street from where the murder took place named Shane Redding.
Redding was a nearby resident claimed to have witnessed the crime. According to Redding, the killer was the initial eyewitness Schneider had been in contact with – Jeffery Hall.
Redding testified in the state’s case against Jeffery Hall was placed in witness protection. Hall was only 15 years old when he killed Danny Jr.
In 2000, Hall pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 13 years of a 15-year prison sentence. Jefferey Hall appears in the series.
While his son’s murder was solved and the killer put behind bars, this was only the beginning of the story depicted in this docuseries.
As the series continues, it dives into Schneider’s role in fighting the early days of the opioid epidemic. Schneider, a pharmacist since 1975, quickly picked up that a growing number of people were coming in with prescriptions for OxyContin.
This addictive painkiller by Purdue Pharma has been linked to the opioid addiction. Almost 50,000 people died from the opioid crisis in 2017. Experts say that overall life expectancy in the US has declined due to the opioid epidemic, a crisis that Purdue Pharma allegedly had a role in creating. Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after several lawsuits in multiple states for their role in the opioid crisis.
Concerned about the fate of the people regularly filling opioid prescriptions in his pharmacy, Schneider began to investigate why there was such a large increase in prescriptions for such powerful painkillers.
Schneider found that an overwhelming number of prescriptions had been written by the same doctor – Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett.
Dr. Cleggett ran a pain management clinic in New Orleans. According to Schneider, most of the prescriptions he saw were similar. Dr. Cleggett often prescribed 40 mg or more of OxyContin, along with Xanax and Soma. When taken together, this dangerous cocktail of drugs was nicknamed the “Holy Trinity”. Cleggett was one of many doctors around the country operating “pill mills” that sold prescriptions to people for profit.
Schneider began cautioning customers that the drugs they were prescribed may be too strong for their condition. Often, the people picking up the prescription did not show any signs of chronic pain or illness. Schneider became more aware over time that these people were abusing the prescriptions and were not using them for pain.
Schneider began to perform his own surveillance of Dr. Cleggett’s office, often sitting outside her office at night video recording the long line of people coming in and out late in the night. He contacted the FBI and the DEA to report his findings. However, both the FBI and DEA were independently investigating Cleggett, which eventually resulted in her license being revoked in 2003.
Cleggett appears in episode 4 of The Pharmacist and attempts to defends herself against accusations of wrongdoing. In the documentary, Cleggett explains that she filed for bankruptcy in 2004. In 2006, she was involved in a car accident that caused serious injuries including brain damage.
“I had two brain hemorrhages, and five skull fractures,” she says in the documentary. “The reason I sound different is because I was incubated for six weeks; my voice is now higher and squeakier.”
In 2009, Cleggett pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to prescribe a controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose. She did not receive any prison time for her actions, but rather given probation for 3 years. Part of her plea deal was to never operate a pain clinic again. Despite abusing opioids herself on a regular basis, Clegget claimed in the docu-series that she was “never addicted”.
This series shines a spotlight on the early opioid epidemic, and one man’s stand against it. While entertaining to watch, the message is clear: the only way to stop the opioid epidemic is to take a stand. If you are addicted to opioid prescriptions, think about how the pills have affected your quality of life. Seek help for your addiction right away, even if you were prescribed medication because of a chronic illness. If someone you love is abusing prescription opioids, take action to help them realize they need help.