In past columns I have done book reviews highlighting aspects of substance use and its effect on individuals and families. When Netflix recently began streaming a four-part docuseries on opioids called The Pharmacist, it presented a perfect opportunity for me to review other media works, as well.The story begins in 1999 with the murder of Dan Schneider’s son, Danny, during a crack drug deal in New Orleans, Louisiana. The first episode, Justice for Danny, centers on Dan’s frustration with the New Orleans Police efforts to solve the murder, so he begins his own investigation to track down his son’s murderer.
But solving his son’s murder is only the beginning. In episode two, A Mission from God, Dan returns to work as a pharmacist in a small neighborhood pharmacy. He notices all the Oxycontin prescriptions filled for young, healthy-looking people in the small neighborhood pharmacy where he works. Through conversations with patients and some sleuthing on his own, he locates a pill mill ― a clinic where millions of Oxycontin pain killers are prescribed by a local doctor.
Episode three, Dope Dealers with White Lab Coats, focuses on Schneider’s investigation of the pill mill, the concurrent investigation by the DEA and Louisiana’s Medical Board into Dr. Cleggit’s medical practice, and a spike in overdose deaths in their county.
Episode four, Tunnel of Hope, begins with the story of Dr. Cleggit, the shutting down of her clinic, and unexpected consequences for the community. The series ends with efforts to expose Purdue Pharma’s role in the current opioid crisis.
The docuseries shows a variety of perspectives, including interviews with witnesses of Danny’s murder, the murderer, New Orleans police, DEA officers, Dr. Cleggit, Louisiana Medical examiner, Purdue Pharma sales rep, the Schneider family, and Oxycontin users. These voices paint the picture of how all these pieces came together to cause the perfect storm of the Oxycontin epidemic. It portrays many of the complexities that brought us to the current crisis and puts a face on the devastation of addiction for individuals and families.
Although Purdue Pharma’s involvement in the opioid crisis has been extensively covered in the media today, Dan Schneider’s investigation preceded the current stories by more than a decade. The information he uncovered was a shocking revelation at the time.
For sensitive viewers, there is some foul language (including the F word). Episode One contains disturbing audio recordings of the Schneider family’s intense grief over the loss of their son. The raw emotion can be difficult and uncomfortable to hear.
I found myself engrossed in the complex story and watched all four 50-minute episodes in one afternoon. It was a moving, powerful, and gripping story of how one man took on a crime investigation, pill mills and big pharma to save others from suffering the pain and loss he experienced in losing his son.
If this series inspires you to join local efforts to combat substance abuse, please contact the White County United Way at 574-583-6544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how you can help!
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.