REVIEW: ‘The Pharmacist’ is a Compelling Look at The Opioid Crisis

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The Pharmacist is the new four-episode Netflix original documentary series, directed by Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst, that follows a small-town pharmacist Dan Schneider who set out to bring his son to justice. However, after long after the investigation to find his son’s killer, he noticed a troubling number of young, seemingly healthy people begin visiting his pharmacy with high dose prescriptions for OxyContin. Sensing a crisis on the horizon, Schneider took up the cause, fueled by the death of his son, and worked to stop the epidemic in its infancy before taking the fight to Big Pharma itself.

Taking place in St. Bernard Parish, located near New Orleans, Louisiana, The Pharmacist paints a stark picture of a middle-class community decimated by opioids. But the documentary also paints a picture behind St. Bernard’s history. During the 1960s, many white families left New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward because Black families began buying homes in the area. So much of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s history is ripe with racial tensions. To this day, the Lower Ninth Ward, still a predominantly Black neighborhood, has never fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina as many residents took a buyout, choosing not to rebuild, or worse were ripped off by contractors. That being said, St Bernard was also hit incredibly hard by the storm.

By focusing not only on St. Bernard but also on the Lower Ninth Ward, The Pharmacist draws a parallel between the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the ongoing opioid crisis. Schneider’s son, Danny, was murdered in the Lower Ninth Ward in 1999 during a drug deal gone wrong. At the time, New Orleans was known as the murder capital of America and despite the number of deaths, almost none of them got solved. The amount of corruption within the New Orleans Police Department was astronomical with many officers embroiled in criminal activity themselves. Additionally, most drug-related killings weren’t considered a priority because according to Scheider, the police had an attitude that these kids got what they deserved. So Scheider decided to work on the case himself even canvassing the neighborhood and putting together reward money for any information given.

By starting with Danny’s death and establishing the history of the Lower Ninth Ward, The Pharmacist sets up a familiar narrative. Just as Danny had been involved with drugs so are many of the Ninth Ward’s residents. Addiction, as a disease, doesn’t discriminate but the way society treats certain communities or people struggling with addiction does. Many residents of the Lower Ninth Ward knew someone who was on or dealing drugs, that was one of the only ways to survive. And with so little support for the city, the state, and police, Danny’s death was just another murder. However, because of Schneider’s tenacity, he was able to bring justice in his son’s case. This something no family in the Lower Ninth Ward would have been able to do for their own children because of their living situation, their income, the police’s attitude toward killings in the area, and the police’s attitude toward Black citizens.

The Pharmacist

Following the close of the trial, Schneider returned to work at the pharmacy. With this newfound understanding of addiction, following his son’s death, Schneider realized just how prevalent the problem was as young people, around Danny’s age, came in picking up prescriptions for OxyContin. Schneider admits that pharmacy school didn’t cover addiction so prior to his son’s death, he didn’t know the signs. Schneider began talking to his patients, trying to understand their pain level and why they were taking this drug. He found, most patients admitted to not being in a large amount of pain. He began recommending other options that weren’t potentially fatal.

In addition to Schneider’s testimony on the drug, The Pharmacist also highlights residents of St. Bernard Parish who took the drug, either by getting it from a relative or friend or were prescribed it themselves. OxyContin is a highly addictive drug and anyone taking it, even when prescribed, realized this immediately. The effects combined with Xanax and Soma, also known as the holy trinity, made the rush of the drug similar to heroin. When people began overdosing, Schneider felt partially responsible for the deaths despite how hard he worked to discourage using the drug. Needless to say, Schneider took things into his own hands and began investigating the ongoing problem even going so far as to contact the DEA with his findings.

Schneider’s interference with the investigation became obsessive and dangerous. However, his focus moved past New Orleans East as he realized just how involved drug companies are. This meant the small doctor’s office that became a pill mill in the parish was just one of the hundreds around the country.

Dan Schneider is compelling. His determination in the face of insurmountable heartache and pain allowed him to change the world. But The Pharmacist is more than just Schneider, by also having testimony from people directly involved in his son’s case and then later the case against Dr. Clegget, the physician running the pill mill, the documentary is engaging. Every episode is suspenseful. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and Schneider’s obsessive investigations that have yielded results prove that ten-fold. Considering that many parts of the country are still seeing many people dying because of an opioid overdose this documentary series is required viewing. In addition to telling an incredibly interesting story, The Pharmacist details how drug epidemics can destroy communities, families, and lives.

The Pharmacist is streaming now on Netflix.

The Pharmacist
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    The Pharmacist - 10/10
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TL;DR

Dan Schneider is compelling. His determination in the face of insurmountable heartache and pain allowed him to change the world. But The Pharmacist is more than just Schneider, by also having testimony from people directly involved in his son’s case and then later the case against Dr. Clegget, the physician running the pill mill, the documentary is engaging.