“The Pharmacist,” a new Netflix documentary series, profiles Dan Schneider, a small-town pharmacist who was one of the first people to identify and confront what we now know as America’s opioid epidemic.
Schneider identified the crisis after the tragic loss of his son. Danny Jr. was murdered in 1999 in an apparent crack deal in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward – at the time, arguably one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.
His sense of helplessness sent him searching for answers.
“I really felt like I had no other choice. I had to find my son’s killer,” Schneider told CBS News correspondent Jamie Wax.
Schneider traveled again and again from his home in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans — begging for help in finding his son’s killer. The mission put him directly in harm’s way.
Reverend Terence Reed, who ran a rehabilitation program at a church in the area, helped Schneider in the neighborhood.
“I thought that was a great recipe for him to get killed,” Reed said.
“I saw in his mindset that he had this conviction that nothing was gonna stop — if I would of said no, he was going back out there anyway,” he said.
Schneider said Reed’s help not only gave him safety. It also gave him some credibility.
His efforts paid off with a conviction.
After finding his son’s killer, a new mystery landed on Schneider’s doorstep. A different drug,, was being distributed by a new kind of dealer: doctors. Schneider said he noticed a high volume of OxyContin prescriptions being given to young, healthy patients.
Now he started a new crusade to save young people’s lives from the opioid problem that was only just beginning to ravage his community. Schneider said that many of the people now buried at the local cemetery were victims of the epidemic.
“I wanted to show the reality of what families go through,” he told Wax. “This cemetery is filled with a lot of young people that have died from this opiate epidemic. And that’s — that’s what I saw happen.”
Some longtime friends of Schneider’s are also featured in the Netflix series, including prominent Louisiana lawyer Walter Leger.
“I’ve never seen anybody do anything of this nature,” Leger said of Schneider. “He seemed to have run into a number of roadblocks of members of law enforcement, federally and locally, you know, kinda getting in his way. But it didn’t deter him.”
Leger is currently representing the state in its lawsuit against drug companies.
“What Danny’s battle was about was a very local battle — involving a particular manufacturer, Purdue, manufacturing OxyContin, which was — people have alleged — abusively marketing to doctors,” Leger said. “This doctor took advantage of it, and illegally ultimately prescribed opioid drugs.”
That physician was Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett. Schneider eventually shut down Clegget’s operation with evidence from his own recordings and surveillance footage.
“I felt a great deal of satisfaction, but the world never really knew what I did. … The Saint Bernard police knew. And, you know, quietly, they gave me credit,” he said.
“The FBI would never acknowledge I did anything,” he said. “The DEA would never acknowledge I did anything.”
According to former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens, Schneider’s impact was immense.
“I was sheriff for 28 years. I can’t tell you that I saved one life,” Stephens said. “But I can tell you this: I know Dan Schneider saved hundreds if not thousands of lives.”
Schneider’s wife, Annie, said her late son would be grateful for his father’s fight.
“I think he would be really proud of his daddy … to go forward with his mission that he wanted to do,” she said. “… And help other people that have problems with drugs and get into … rehab, and educate the people — educate parents and children, and schools.”
The Netflix series is bringing a whole new level of attention and recognition to Schneider — and he said that’s OK with him, as long as it helps him shine a light on the real and continuing issue.
“Now I have a spotlight, if you want to call it. Light … It’s all about light and hope. Tunnel of hope.”
“I’m not exactly through the tunnel. But I can see light. … I can see light and hope, where I had almost lost that hope.”