After losing his son Danny Jr. to a substance-related shooting, Louisiana pharmacist Dan Schneider was determined to hold the powerful figures behind the nation’s opioid epidemic accountable. The critically acclaimed Netflix docuseries The Pharmacist recounts Dan’s rigorous quest to find answers about his son’s death, and his mission to stop the overprescribing of opioids taking place in his community. 

In this episode of Heart of the Matter, host Elizabeth Vargas speaks with Dan about his journey to finding justice, turning his grief into action and how families can help address the opioid crisis in their communities.

Content warning: This episode contains mentions of death, as well as in-depth discussions of substance use. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, please contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at (800) 662-4357. These programs provide free, confidential support 24/7. You are not alone.

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Episode transcript

Elizabeth Vargas:

Dan Schneider, welcome to Heart of the Matter. It’s so great to meet you and to have you on the podcast. I watched The Pharmacist on Netflix and was blown away. Blown away by your passion, blown away by your investigatory skills and the story that you tell in that. And of course, the story begins with the most awful of tragedies for you and your wife and your daughter, the death of your son, 22 years old, Danny Junior, who was shot and killed while out buying drugs, crack you think, and you had had no idea Danny Junior was into drugs until that knock on the door from the police telling you your son had been murdered. Tell me about that?

Dan Schneider:

Well, absolutely. We had been aware of some marijuana use. And we thought we had dealt with that, and I hate when we say that, but as a father, there’s a time in my mind, I kind of said, “Well, if that’s the worse he does. Maybe it’s not so bad.” Although I didn’t try to let him know that. I tried any way, shape or form. But again, we had this perfect life. We were called the Griswolds, a daughter and a son and big Christmas trees and beautiful home and everything going for us. And the kid had not detentions or fights or any issues. And maybe a little bit occasional pot, which we were concerned about, but didn’t really take it that seriously.

And all of a sudden he goes out one night to get, we are told to go get some notes for a test, because he was still in school and actually was functioning in school. His grades had started to slip a little bit. And that was something we sensed at the time, but I never would have dreamed it would have been crack or a serious drug. And I never would have thought that he would have ever went into dangerous areas to purchase this.

And the sad part of that is after this we were shocked about this. I thought about that, and in our local community he could have probably bought crack in a much safer location. And so I had to say, “Well, why did he go there?” Well, he went there because he was less likely to get caught. In my community the police were active. I was pretty well known in the community. It would have got around. But because he avoided that he went into dangerous areas, and wrong place, wrong time. Near as we can figure he was robbed, and that wasn’t good enough and he was killed. And so it was a total shock that all of a sudden at two o’clock in the morning, police were there, and bingo, your son’s been murdered. Then you got to figure out he’s also doing serious drugs.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Right, right. I’m so sorry and I can’t even imagine. This happened in 1999, you felt at the time that police weren’t doing enough to catch his killer. And in fact, you felt in some ways they sort of wrote him off as a kid who was doing crack in a bad area. And the investigation seemed to go nowhere.

Dan Schneider:

Absolutely. And I hate to say it, but it was even maybe worse than that. I tried to get involved to help. I mean, initially not deeply investigating like I eventually would, but tried to get together with him. And they were treating my son like a criminal in a sense. And I told him, I said, “Well, maybe you ought to go down where he works and find out maybe some information. Maybe they know somebody he dealt with or somebody knew what he was doing.” And they went down there and they asked one question, and his boss at the Pizza Hut, he delivered night pizza. He went to school but delivered pizza at night. And they asked or they said, “How much has he been stealing?”

Elizabeth Vargas:

That’s what they asked?

Dan Schneider:

That’s the only question they asked, which gave me a clue as to what they thought about this. Now, crazy thing is I said, “Well, they had me believing this almost. Maybe I didn’t know the depth of this.” Which obviously I didn’t in a sense. But when they said that, I said, “Well?” She said, “Oh no, he was my best employee. He was never a penny short, this was a total shock to me.” And then I told the cops that, I got on their case. We did start a protection. I got on their case. I said, “I sent you down there to try to find out something with the case, not whether or not my son was stealing.”

Of course, I guess they would tie that together, maybe pretend they did. But I’ll tell you this, it was a punch in the gut. And I had started knowing that addicts will do almost anything. And all of a sudden I had to realize if my son was going to dangerous areas, he apparently had an addiction. So it was not out of the realm of possibilities. And let me tell you this, if he’d have continued on down the path he was on, it might have came to that that he would have been stealing.

So what I to do though is, at home we had a little cash area. We had some apartments and we kept a certain amount of cash out, and the kids had access to this money. So when the cop said that, even though I hated them saying that, I said, “My God, I better go check.” And I went and check the little box we had, and the kids were, all they had to do was write on with the reason was if they had an emergency, and take the money. Wasn’t a penny short.

And then on his dresser, him and his girlfriend, she was long distance, and he had been making long distance phone calls. And I said, “You guys have got to help out with the phone bill a little bit.” So out of his money, and she had a little part-time job, they would chip in. And he had money on dresser, like a $100 on his dresser. He didn’t even take the money out of his dresser.

So it was really, it was insulting and hurtful and it was not the way they should have proceeded on a case. Shortly after that I started recording everything. I didn’t trust these people. I didn’t like the way it was going. And eventually, this is another sad, I hate to even say this because I’m friendly with police. They do good work and maybe a different time at a different place it would have been different. The stigma was really big back then. And they were kind of overrun with drugs and maybe they were burned out. I tried to have some compassion, but at the time it eventually got to be too that they not only didn’t really work on solving the case, they tried to prevent me from solving the case.

Elizabeth Vargas:

You actually went to work. You went to work. You called everybody in the neighborhood where he was shot. You wrote letters to everybody who lived in the area, your son’s murderer was eventually caught and brought to justice because of you and your own one man vigilante, dare I say, investigation.

Dan Schneider:

Me mainly. My family was supportive. We did get some help there. But the witness, the witness who was really a hero.

Elizabeth Vargas:

The witness you found?

Dan Schneider:

No matter how, I mean, it was me who found her and it was me who had to convince her, but it ultimately, it was harder to her to take that step. Otherwise we wouldn’t be talking today. There wouldn’t be a story. I don’t even know if I ever got into advocacy the way I kind of hoped I would one day. I might have been a broken man, but this young girl stood up against all odds and told it. And that has always been a motivation to me. Once I shifted to advocacy and the other things that I did, I said, “She could do this. If she could take that kind of risk.” A lot of people look at the risk, I’ll take it. Even with shutting the doctor down and some of my other investigations. None of them were as dangerous as what she did. Always compared myself to her. And when she stepped forward, I said, “Well, darn it. I should be doing this kind of stuff too.”

Elizabeth Vargas:

Well, after you managed to find your son’s killer and help bring him to justice, as you just said yourself, you became an activist. You became involved. You work as a pharmacist, hence the name of the documentary, The Pharmacist. And you began to notice at that point an enormous number of prescriptions for Oxycontin. You called it in the documentary over-the-counter heroin. How much were you seeing and why did it suddenly strike you?

Dan Schneider:

Well, honestly, I hate to say it, because of working on my son’s case it was probably taking a place fairly bad. It was getting worse. But it was probably fairly bad even before my son’s murder was solved, but I was so focused on that I just could not get involved in that. It was kind of like I had a kind of, “Geez, and this isn’t right, somebody’s got to do something, but I can’t take my eye off the ball.” The minute his case was solved and I had already made some promises to God and to my son that I would go out there and try to save lives. And my main focus was going to be talking in schools and talking to parents. But all of a sudden I got this doctor here and the clientele that’s coming in, not only is this huge amount of high potent [inaudible 00:09:10] and a pill almost type of medications that they take.

And it’s also, it’s a different age group. It used to be 40 and 50 year olds most of the time took these common drugs or similar to. Now all of a sudden I’m seeing 20-year-olds. Well, when my son was 22, so I just knew, it’s a shame to say it, but my brain was so enlightened, I believe at that time that I kind of said, “This isn’t going to end well.” And not just for those individuals, I could almost foresee the opioid epidemic. I started writing articles and talking to, because we have an epidemic and back then there was only 16,000 overdose deaths. So most people when I said “epidemic” said, “What the hell is he talking about?”

Elizabeth Vargas:

So what percentage of the prescriptions were you seeing that were for opioids, for Oxycontin?

Dan Schneider:

Okay. Well, and I want to correct a little something that’s in the documentary. They acted like 90% of the prescriptions filled at that drugstore. That’s not the case. 90% of the prescriptions for opioids that we were filling for a while were Dr. Cleggett, one doctor. We had, at least 50 or 60% of our business was birth control pills and blood pressure pills and what not. We were not a pill mill pharmacy. Now, I had a little conflict with my boss. I wanted this to be even tighter than we were. And obviously I started investigating. He wasn’t thrilled with me investigating. He never did tell me not to fill a prescription, but I ran computer runs and whatnot. And when we started seeing the numbers, I said, “Jesus, Lord, we’re doing too much. And my God, what are these other stores doing?”

Elizabeth Vargas:

Right. Because you’re not the only pharmacy in the area filling prescriptions?

Dan Schneider:

We weren’t the worst, because of me and even my boss had some restraints, we wouldn’t fill from out of our area. That sounds like common sense, but there were a lot of pharmacies cashing in on this. There were pill mill doctors, but there were pill mill pharmacies. I mean, if we wouldn’t have turned down what we turned down, we’d have filled way more, but we would have people come in and say, “Well, I’m from Lafayette, I’m from Mississippi. I’m from,” hundreds of miles away, why are they coming to our little drugstore?

Elizabeth Vargas:

Right.

Dan Schneider:

It was obvious.

Elizabeth Vargas:

You mentioned that the 90% of the Oxycontin prescriptimons you filled were from a Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett. You began to investigate her. Tell me what you found out about this Dr. Cleggett who was operating in New Orleans east?

Dan Schneider:

Well, first thing I did, I kind of run some computer runs and I saw the patterns and I saw where she started them at a high dose. And so initially I contacted the Medical Board. I wasn’t really wanting to get involved in a direct investigation. After what we’d went through with my son and everything I kind of almost promised my wife to some extent that I’m not going to do anymore investigation. I’m going to do advocacy. I’m going to talk in schools. And she said, “Well, that’s fine. Just don’t go investigating.” All of a sudden though, alright, I got this in front of me. I bring it to the Medical Board. They don’t really react to it. I hate to say it. I was cynical at the time. I said, “Well, they must be in cahoots or they must be being bought out too.”

Later I would find out that in a sense they were waiting on the DEA and the FBI, and they didn’t have the resources to put together the case to actually shut her down. But at the time I kind of wrote them all. And I said, “Well, geez, I’m guessing I’m going to have to start doing this myself.”

And we took a trip to Minnesota. Our state football team won one of their first playoff games. We took a break, and this was in January of 2001. And we took a break, went to Minnesota to watch this game. Well, sadly they lost the game. But while we were there we were at the Mall of America and I bought a new video camera because my old one was not working any longer.

On the way back we had a friend with us in the car and we were riding along and I was telling her about this doctor and that somebody has to do something. And I don’t know whether I should do this or not. And she said, “Schneider,” and she’s in the documentary. She said, “Schneider, you’re going to do this.” And I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “You’re going to be put her out of business, you are.” And I said, “Well, that’s easy for you to say.” I said, “But there’s a lot of sacrifice going in, I’ve already promised my wife.” I said, “You know what? I made a deal with God to go out and teach kids and parents, not to investigate again. So, the only way I’m going to do this is if I get a direct sign from God.” Immediately out of the windshield I recalled a cross formed. Swear to God.

Now, let me just tell you. The girl that was with me, she’s kind of one of these people that believe in this kind of stuff, and I kind of don’t. So I’m thinking, “Am I hallucinating?” And so I said, “There’s no way my wife’s going to believe this. When I try to tell her that God wants me to go on this mission to investigate, she ain’t going to believe this.” Fortunately, it was still there. We woke her up and my daughter up in the back seat of the car, we didn’t tell him anything, said, “Look out of the windshield. What do you see?” And they both said, “I saw a cross.”

Now, it’s a mystical type of thing and not everybody would buy that it’s from God. Maybe it was happenstance. Maybe it, whatever it was. But that night when we got home, I took that new video camera. And my wife, I said, “I’m going to go out there and videotape her office. I’ve been hearing these horrible things about her. And I thought people were exaggerating.”

Elizabeth Vargas:

What did you hear? What had you heard about her?

Dan Schneider:

I heard that if you go there two o’clock in the morning, there’s hundreds of people there.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Wow.

Dan Schneider:

Hundreds of people, two o’clock in the morning. So when I say that my wife says, “I’m going with you.” Now remember, this is a girl that doesn’t want me to investigate, but she saw the cross and she knows kids are dying. She’s been hearing me say this. And now I think she’s buying into, well, maybe this is a calling. Or maybe we’re in the right, somebody might say the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe we are the ones that have to do this.

Elizabeth Vargas:

So when you went out there with your video camera and your wife in the middle of the night, what did you find at Dr. Cleggett’s office?

Dan Schneider:

I found hundreds of people walking in and out of her office. I found the cabs pulling up. People would run in and run out and get back in the cab. I saw people selling pills in the parking lot. And worse than that, we saw New Orleans police officers on her porch, watching all this.

Elizabeth Vargas:

They were providing security for her?

Dan Schneider:

For her.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Because she was, right, because she actually, the police officer said it was a high cash business. She was seeing all these patients and charging cash.

Dan Schneider:

I would later develop what I call moles, some of my patients that I didn’t think were really so bad of patients that had maybe real pain and maybe it was somewhat justified and they weren’t selling pills. But I also would say this, I befriended them.

Elizabeth Vargas:

And what did they tell you?

Dan Schneider:

Well, they started telling me the whole operation. They were spilling their guts. Most of them weren’t happy about it. And I’ll tell you why they weren’t happy about it. Because most of the ones I was dealing with didn’t have a lot of money. And even though it cost them maybe $200 or a $100 to go see the doctor, what would happen is they would go there like at eight o’clock, she didn’t open up until nighttime.

Elizabeth Vargas:

She didn’t open in the daytime at all?

Dan Schneider:

No.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Okay, so she opens when the sun goes down, and what did your sources or moles as you call them, what did they tell you about how this worked?

Dan Schneider:

Well, they said that and then, so some of them was telling me, they said, “And you know what she does? I go there at eight o’clock and I don’t get out until four o’clock in the morning.” I said, “My God, you sit there for eight hours?” “Yeah,” she said, “But guess what? There’s people coming in and out in front of me.” I said, “Well, how can that be?” “Well, they pay extra money.”

Elizabeth Vargas:

Oh.

Dan Schneider:

Yeah. And when I started seeing this operation, I said, “My God, this is taking place.” And the police on the porch, it was just really unbelievable. And then I started gathering all this information and then I called the FBI. And the FBI comes to my house, they’re very appreciative. They take all this material. They say, “Mr. Schneider, we appreciate this and want to let you know, we’ll get back with you on this.” I get a call from them not long after and they say, “The DEA is ahead of us on this. So we’re sending all your information and all your video tapes and audio tapes,” because I was taping these patients, they were telling me her operation.

Elizabeth Vargas:

You also were taping outside her office? I mean, you had visual evidence of these people at three o’clock in the morning-

Dan Schneider:

Yes.

Elizabeth Vargas:

… standing outside her office, coming in and out, selling pills in the parking lot. You had this all on tape.

Dan Schneider:

Yes.

Elizabeth Vargas:

You’ve recorded everything?

Dan Schneider:

Yes. Yes. I had learned to do that to help solve my son’s murder. And I applied that principle. And we had a lot of audio tapes of the patients telling me. Now how bad is – now some of the patients knew they were being taped. Believe it or not, some of them allowed me to tape. Some of them didn’t know.

Elizabeth Vargas:

I have to say, I’m amazed that with, I mean, local TV eventually started doing stories on this as well. I don’t understand how people could be taking video, it’s common knowledge. There’s a line outside her door every night. People are going in and paying the doctor cash to write a prescription for Oxycontin. I don’t understand how she continued to operate for as long as she did like this.

Dan Schneider:

Neither did I. It just about drove me crazy. And in fact, you can see some scenes in there where I’m actually acting kind of crazy. I’m almost losing it. I’m so frustrated seeing these kids. And now I’m seeing kids that I know and sons and daughters of friends that I grew up with were dying from this thing. And I’m doing everything I can do to stop it. And I’m getting nowhere and they’re not really paying attention. And so, oh, it was just ridiculously frustrating. Now, the FBI sends me to DEA, well, the DEA later sends me back to the FBI. So I’ll start getting this runaround type of thing.

And in one of the scenes where I really look kind of crazy, and I guess I was kind of crazy, a crazy thing happened that still isn’t explained to this day. I had an appointment to meet an FBI agent at FBI headquarters to give them some additional information. I left my house on Monday. I made that appointment on Friday. I left my house on Monday, headed to the FBI headquarters. And I started being chased by what I call Cleggett goons. I had been chased before. They caught me videotaping. She had security, not the police per se. The police were on her porch at one time. But they, she also had body guards you might say. They’re eventually following me out in a sense and a couple times they’d chase me.

But this time, coincidental to me going to the FBI office, they’re following me, chasing me. And so that I begin to think maybe the FBI tipped these people off. And to this day, I don’t really know if that might be possible. I’d like to think it wasn’t, but at the time there was a touch of paranoia, but kind of justified paranoia.

Elizabeth Vargas:

And you actually say, “I think I’m losing it.” And you say, “I’ve crushed the edge into paranoia.” I mean, there were times in this sort of crusade of yours, this one man crusade where you thought and others thought that you might be crazy.

Dan Schneider:

I agree. I agree with it. But who does this for nothing? Why do this? I tried to get 10 pharmacists to go together with me to the medical. Nobody wanted to take the time to do this now? Now, why did I? Because I was on a mission. And because I had promised God, because it was in my face. Prior to me really digging into this I told my wife, and one time my wife says, “Please don’t get into this.” There’s a couple times we went back and forth on this. And I said, “Well, then I’m going to have to leave my job. I have to change careers, but I cannot function in this and be a part of this without trying to do something about it.”

And so there was a lot of forces that drove me, but I’m going to tell you, it still is not explained completely today. You can call it paranoia. But this lady was making tons and tons of money. And the FBI had this case for a long time and it wasn’t going anywhere. And then I go in to give them additional information and the goons starts chasing me and threatened me. And I still don’t know that it’s not possible that the FBI, somebody in the FBI was really on a take.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Do you have any idea how many patients she would see every night?

Dan Schneider:

Yeah. And in fact, they give a number in there and I guess they could be right. But I think it had to be more than what they said. I think they said 90 in a session, which was still ridiculous. You divide 90 into eight hours, it’s less than five minutes, I believe a part. But honestly, she didn’t even write all the scripts. She had a nurse that many times had pre-written scripts and they were just handing the scripts out. And based upon the crowds that I saw there, it had to be more than 90, so.

Elizabeth Vargas:

And she was charging $200 for each of these people to get this prescription?

Dan Schneider:

Well, which she was charging is, and remember, this is 20 years ago. And she had different tiers. If you went there and you didn’t have any money, so to speak and you had no connections, it was around 100 bucks. Later she would tack on a couple of things. You had to be drug tested. Supposedly that was a back up for her to kind of act like she was doing the right thing. But I also had moles that told me that they threw the urine down the toilet. But they were charging $25 for drug tests and they would pretend they drug tested these people so that they could present that to the Medical Board or whatever that they were trying to exclude drug addicts from this. Which was a bunch of baloney.

Elizabeth Vargas:

How much you think she might have made any given night?

Dan Schneider:

Oh, God. It had to be hundreds. It had to be over 100. It could have been 150. Now, there was different nights that would, I’m sure different patterns, but the times I went out there, if you … And usually I would only film for about a half an hour, but in a half an hour I would see 30 people go in and out of this place. Well, if she’s over eight hours times 30, it would be hundreds. And so, it was definitely unbelievable. And there come a time where I kind of made peace, but yeah by after all that paranoia, whatever, or reality that something wasn’t right. I eventually, they threatened to arrest me.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Because you were interfering?

Dan Schneider:

They called it I was interfering in the investigation. And so, believe it or not, I had two policemen, local policemen come there, but directed by the FBI to come there, sit me and my wife down and said, “Look, he’s got to stop.” And believe it or not, it scared me and I basically stopped. Although, I seen kids die and I seen nothing happen and so I started investigating again. A little bit more covert. And so any event, but I eventually ran into the FBI. While I was investigating, me and the FBI were investigating the same thing. And so believe it or not, the FBI actually called me. One of the agents actually called me and said, “Look, Dan, cool it, we appreciate your help. We know you’re committed to this thing, but we need you to back off, we’re ready to close on this case. We’re going to ask you to stop.”

Dan Schneider:

And they gave me a date. It was like maybe 30 days or 60 days. They said, “In 60 days we’re going to have this thing closed. So rest easy.” Well, I tried to rest easy. Six months later, after going to 30 funerals of kids dying and nothing happening with the FBI, I was pulling my hair out and I was praying, but I was afraid to go back in. Again, people told me I was crazy. And maybe my wife’s even saying, “Look, you’ve done everything you can do. Give it up.” And I kind of sort of, I hate to admit it, but it looks like I never would stop anything. I kind of held back and prayed. Out of the blue the Medical Board gets in touch with me. Finally they take a look at what I had given them two years earlier.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Wow.

Dan Schneider:

But this time now, a couple of things have happened. Number one, they are tired of waiting on the DEA and the FBI, just like I was tired from the beginning. Also, I have a tremendous amount of evidence for them. Now I can share my evidence with them. And so, the other thing is, the way we got the police off the porch is I reported this to our local TV station, Channel 4. This was early on in my investigation. And I got Channel 4, a guy named David McNamara from down here. And we got him to go out and videotape it. And they showed it on TV. They showed what I had that I given to DEA and FBI on TV.

Immediately the New Orleans brass, NOPD brass pulled those policemen off the porch. But also, then people started calling the Medical Board, “What’s going on here?” So even, I hate to take that much credit, but I mean, I don’t know if I would not have pushed all these buttons, I don’t know how long it would have taken this to end. But eventually pushing a million different buttons, some things started coming through.

And then the Medical Board comes to me and says, “Look, Dan, we want to go after her now. We’re not going to wait on the FBI, the DEA, but you know what? We are still afraid. She’s got a lot of money and a lot of political connections. We’re still afraid we don’t have enough.” And they said, “We need a smoking gun.” At the time I didn’t know what a smoking gun was in this particular place. I mean, I heard about a murder or somebody with a smoking gun. But I didn’t know what it was.

Sure enough, a young girl, 100 pounds, walks into my office or into my pharmacy with ridiculously high powered opioids, way out of line in dosage, 80 milligram Oxycontin. Take one or two, two or three times a day. She weighs 100 pounds. I take a look at this and I say, “Jesus, God. I think if this girl takes it as prescribed, this will kill her.” I call the doctor that she had dealt with before and he said, “I never gave her that kind of medication before. I gave her some mild opiate, or I gave her a Tylenol or whatnot.” And he said, “That’d probably kill the girl.” Well, I asked him to go to the Medical Board. “Oh no, I don’t want to go to the Medical Board. I’m sorry, I don’t want to do that.”

So I managed to, when I got her, I managed to get all this information to the Medical Board now about this young girl that came in, and documented this thing. But I also knew Dr. Cleggett, who now knows I’m on her trail and she no longer will talk to me. We’ve had conversations early on. I was trying to, I guess, improve her or slow her down or whatnot. Be reasonable with her. Now she’s no longer talking to me, but I know I got to get these scripts verified, because she’s going to deny having written him. And then I won’t have that smoking gun. So I called her, two or three days it took for her to get back with me. But I guess, and karma has something to do with this. She was cocky. She didn’t think she could be stopped. And in the documentary, the DEA eventually also went to see her and she was cocky.

So what did she do when I get on the phone with her? I document this. I said, “Dr. Cleggett, did you write these prescriptions for this young girl?” If she’d have said no, I’d have been burnt probably. She could have claimed they forgeries. She said, “Absolutely I did.” And I said, “Well, doctor, the dose on this thing could kill this girl.” “Who made you an F-en doctor?”

Elizabeth Vargas:

Wow.

Dan Schneider:

I document that. And I get to the Medical Board this information, and now, bingo. Within days she’s shut down, never to practice again.

Elizabeth Vargas:

It’s important to know, when you’re noticing these prescriptions, all 90% of them written by this one, single doctor, Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett for doses of Oxycontin that are off the charts and excessive in your estimation, based on the patients bringing them, 75% of heroin users say their first opioid was a prescription pain pill. These Oxycontin prescriptions would go on to not only kill hundreds of thousands of people every year in this country, but they often are the gateway to heroin, heroin that is now killing more people in the last year than in any other previous year along with opioids in this country. So it’s an enormous crisis. And at the time that you were noticing all this and pursuing Dr. Cleggett, St. Bernard Parish, you guys were one of the epicenters in the nation, largely because of Dr. Cleggett’s prescription writing, right?

Dan Schneider:

Absolutely. One doctor mainly.

Elizabeth Vargas:

One doctor mainly put your St. Bernard Parish on the map as an opioid epidemic center.

Dan Schneider:

Another thing that motivated me, same thing happened in January of 2001 where I saw the cross and I decided, and I went and videotaped the office, Time Magazine had an article about Oxycontin, the killer. They started seeing this happening. They picked out three spots in the country that they called hotspots. One was my community.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Wow.

Dan Schneider:

So, and not only am I seeing this and I’m getting involved in this, okay, I’m embarrassed now. This woman has got my little community to be in Time Magazine, which normally we’d be thrilled to be in Time Magazine, okay? But not as one of the hot spots in the country for this. So I took that as another motivation that one day, one day Time Magazine’s going to have something about our parish that’s positive. They did an article on The Pharmacist and what we accomplished. So, that was one distant dream that eventually came true.

Elizabeth Vargas:

We hear from a sales rep for Purdue Pharma in The Pharmacist documentary, who talks about the fact that doctors like Dr. Cleggett were referred to as “whales.” By the way, that’s a term that casinos use for their off the charts, massive gamblers. The guys who come in and drop $50,000 on one hand of blackjack. And I was so astonished to see this Purdue Pharma sales rep refer to Dr. Cleggett as a whale.

Dan Schneider:

Common gangster type.

Elizabeth Vargas:

It’s a moneymaker, it’s a moneymaker.

Dan Schneider:

It’s definitely money making. In fact, it’s interesting, but the other great story out there right now is Dopesick and Danny Strong.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Yeah, we just had them on the podcast.

Dan Schneider:

Well, Danny actually took some of what happened in The Pharmacist. It helped motivate him. They went further, they had more to time and they use actors and they could have some drama involved that we couldn’t get in a regular documentary. But he, if you notice, he gives a couple of nods to The Pharmacists in there. One of it is, if you watch the Dopesick, they got the, they talk about this whale in New Orleans. He mentions that. And in fact, one of the girls in the show, one of the sales reps, and that gets promoted to go to New Orleans. And she’s got a boyfriend at the time. He later turns coat against Purdue, if you watched the show?

Elizabeth Vargas:

Right, I did.

Dan Schneider:

Okay. But she says, “Come down there with me because we got a lot of money to make in New Orleans.” And that all was because of The Pharmacist, but she was one of the whales. In my show we had a sales rep that said, “He was mad because the guy that worked that area didn’t have to work, but he won the awards.”

Elizabeth Vargas:

And earned all the bonuses of $30,000 per quarter.

Dan Schneider:

Amen. Amen. It is crazy.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Dr. Cleggett because of your efforts lost her medical license and has pleaded guilty to criminal charges. She no longer is writing these prescriptions. You make it clear that there are many who visited her and spoke to her. Even people who went to her for these prescriptions who felt that she herself was addicted to opioids. Do you feel like, I mean, do you feel like you succeeded? Did you win in the end? Because even though you shut her down, I got to tell you, Dan, we still have this epidemic and people are still dying in massive numbers.

Dan Schneider:

And the [inaudible 00:34:40] cartels, they show up, they are mastermind. They’re all gangsters, just like what you say with the whales. And Purdue picked up on that type of thing, now they got one pill to kill. They got these kids now taking fake prescription drugs. Why are they doing that? Obviously it’s for money. But it’s a new market. It’s a way to bring a new generation. They’re not being created by the prescription doctor, the pill doctors any longer, they needed new blood.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Yeah.

Dan Schneider:

So they went to our kids, they went on Snapchat. They faked this out. Kids everywhere have experimented with Xanax and Percocets and whatnot. And for years they’ve experimented and that was wrong I guess you would say if they were without a prescription. But it didn’t kill them. Most of them gave it up, it didn’t lead to anything. A few of them eventually became addicts, granted. Now they’re dying in droves. So some of the big numbers now is this new wave of death by deception. It’s not that you have that many more, although you create, you’re not even creating addicts when they die with one pill. They’re not addicts that are dying. These are just kids.

I’m working on it, and a lot of people are working on it. I don’t have quite all the answers, but the answer is not opening up the prescription opioids again. We got that lid down. Now, if we can figure out a way to make these kids aware and educate, and I don’t know if we can stop it at its source some kind of way. Some people are calling it a weapon of mass destruction. If it gets classified as that, then we can actually go into China. We can try to get agreements with China to go in. And if they can’t put these cartels out of business, maybe we can. And you’d say, “Well, why should we do that?” Well, because the way it’s going right now as the older addicts died or get well, then if we keep doing 100,000, it’s going to be all kids.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Yeah.

Dan Schneider:

It just ain’t going to be people with substance use disorder. So we got our hands full, but prayers and efforts. The thing I would close with on this aspect too is, we have to get more people involved, not just Dan Schneider.

Elizabeth Vargas:

You talk about trying to urge people to stand up and say something and do something. You did repeatedly, long after law enforcement agents, police, the FBI, the DEA, fellow pharmacists, your pharmacist boss, doctors were all telling you, “Be quiet and mind your own business. Please stop. Actively stop. You’re harassing us, stop, don’t record.”

And you talked, just told me about at one point contacting 10 other pharmacists, and none of them would help you report Dr. Cleggett, who was clearly, clearly abusing her capacity and her medical license and writing prescriptions for Oxycontin she shouldn’t have. What would you say to people who are sitting on the sidelines, watching this slow motion car accident happen in front of them and watching our numbers of opioid overdoses tick up year after year, after year? What would you say to them to encourage other people? Maybe they don’t have to go as far as you did, because Dan, you went far, you went farther than most people ever would, or maybe even should. What would you say though? There is something to do.

Dan Schneider:

I agree. And I do that, but you have to realize that it’s kind of like, when I give these talks and whatnot, most of the people have heard something about this and have an interest, have lost a cousin, or lost a brother, or lost a daughter or son. And I still do it because I’m not only trying to invigorate them to do some action, but to get them to maybe spread the word to somebody else. But again, I kind of said it, I think the best way that I can succeed in or have a bigger impact is to get media coverage. Not just because it’s opioids, because it’s a heartwarming story that it touches people’s hearts. And it’s an interesting story on how people, how I did this. And at the same time making that appeal because they have to read the book to get the message.

Elizabeth Vargas:

No, but I’m just saying, tell me what you, I mean, because whether it was the FBI and the DEA who you say and others say were slow to act, or whether it was the New Orleans police department who were slow to act, they were providing security for Dr. Cleggett, whether it was your fellow pharmacists who were slow to act. It wasn’t until you called the local TV station and they did a story and put images on the local news, showing people at 3:00 a.m. lined up the outside Dr. Cleggett’s office that people started to do something. So, my question to you is, what would you say to people who all too often stand on the sidelines?

Dan Schneider:

Stop sleeping. There’s, I think I said it in the documentary, there’s three kinds of people. There’s people that make things happen, some people watch things happen and some people say, “What happened?” And the child that you might save might be your grandchild. So, if you haven’t been directly affected, that’s got to come through in this message too. The pain that the family goes through, hopefully that helps some people. And you’re right. They don’t have to do what I do. Maybe they write a Congressman, maybe they write a Senator. Now, maybe they write an op-ed in the newspaper. Maybe they found a local group that’s working with drug addiction.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Or maybe they just say honestly what happened, because so many people still keep it a secret.

Dan Schneider:

Speak up. Absolutely. Now I will say that in fairness to my profession, it’s gotten better than what I had back then. I don’t think it’d be the case if you had a real stick out doctor that I went to 10 pharmacists now and asked them to go with me to the medical, I think I’d get some to go. And in all fairness to them, past back then, of those 10 pharmacists, and that might not be the exact number, but let’s say it was 10 pharmacists that I ask to do this with. There were a few of them, it was greed. They didn’t want her stopped.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Because they were making money too?

Dan Schneider:

They were making money too. Now of course, some of them it’s combination of making money and saying, “Well, it’s not in my business. It’s somebody else’s business.” And everybody was passing the buck. And we, again back to your question, we got to stop passing the buck. On this issue for sure, but there’s other issues that people have to stop doing. So whatever we can do to motivate more people to step up, look at the situation, try to do something to make the world a better place. I know that’s real idealistic. But I don’t know any other way to ever really, it’s going to take a village to put a dent in this thing. It’s not going to just take daddies who have lost kids or mamas who have us kids.

I see them cry every day. It hasn’t made a big difference. Now, I encourage them to keep it up. But somewhere along the line, hopefully we have a breakthrough. And maybe, I hope that, I know Partnership, your podcast I’m sure goes out to a lot of people that are members of the Partnership. But I hope it touches people somewhere down the line and they take that little extra step. Because if you can multiply, I think George Bush they one time called the points of light. If we could get a lot of points of life out there, just maybe, just maybe we can get a handle on this and reverse this. God help us if we can’t.

I can’t even imagine. And go back to one other scene in there. There was a lot of things that I recorded that I didn’t know I recorded, or I questioned, that I didn’t really look at until we did the documentary. Well, I caught my wife in the background a couple of times. And I don’t think it was on purpose. I probably left the damn recorder on accidentally. And so, and she was crying out. She said, she’s crying. “God, why did you take my baby?” And it’s this shrill voice, a mother losing her child.

And the documentary maker said, “Dan, look, we want to run this by you, I don’t know if you know you recorded this, but you did. It’s really personal. We don’t have to play this.” I talked with my wife. She said, “Please play it. If it touches one person. Because my story and bearing our souls, my story’s really not about me. It’s about the other million people out there that have lost kids that maybe didn’t have the strength or the fortitude or the knowledge or job or embarrassed or are so crumbled by grief that they can’t stand up.” And if you had a recorder in every one of those mother’s house when they heard that their child died, you would have the same kind of cry. So my wife’s cry was the cry of a million moms.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Dan Schneider, your last words in the documentary are, “Everything I did, I did for Danny.” I thank you so much for everything you did and everything you continue to do, and for being and Heart of the Matter. We really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Dan Schneider:

I thank you, Elizabeth. Let’s just hope and pray we make a difference.

Elizabeth Vargas:

Me too.

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