After the shooting of his son in a drug deal gone bad in 1999, St. Bernard Parish resident and pharmacist Dan Schneider strives to find his son’s killer while the police write it off another dead junkie. After beating the odds and putting the murderer behind bars, Dan becomes aware of the opioid epidemic spreading in the New Orleans area and crusades to save other parents from losing their children to drugs. Despite warnings from police, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and threats from former pill-mill doctor Jaqueline Cleggett, Dan again defies the odds by shutting Cleggett down and brings awareness of the opioid epidemic to the public.
Netflix’s new documentary “The Pharmacist” takes audiences through the emotional journey of Dan Schneider and his war against drugs and big pharma. This impact is even more significant for GNO (Greater New Orleans) residents as they witness the events that took place in their own communities. “I lived down the road in St. B. during that time. It’s surreal to see all these facts in front of your face not realizing it was happening,” says a former St. Bernard resident who wished to only be identified by the initial C. “I never knew it was that bad, just a bunch of teenagers getting high.”
Beginning the story with the murder of Schneider’s son, Danny Jr., the first episode brings us step by step through the Schneider family’s grief and galvanization into taking their son’s murder case into their own hands. This first episode is a strong introduction to the story, a moving tale of loss as well as one of intrigue for any true crime enthusiast. The documentary’s pacing slows down to process Schneider’s grief, then ramps back up as he starts to uncover the pill-mill of Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett. “I was impressed by the way [Schneider] was able to help his community see the opiate crisis with more compassion by sharing his story,” says Shannon Williamson, Director of UNO’s Learning Resource Center. “There’s no telling how many lives this one guy really saved with all the work he did. Sometimes I forget that one person really can make a difference in the world.”
Schneider’s own brand of vigilante justice was a far cry of what the word vigilante often brings to mind; images of caped crusaders stalking nighttime rooftops. His methods were less exciting but just as effective as Schneider kept records of every interview and scrap of information he could find. Had he not succeeded in his quest, he may have been looked on as obsessively paranoid rather than the key to taking down Cleggett. “My dude lived in the neighborhood behind the sketchy af ‘doctor’ office behind the pharmacy where they would give you a shot of b12 for literally everything,” says a Reddit user who goes by Sarah. “Watching this with him was a lot of ‘That guy played ball with my son’ and ‘That girl used to be friends with my daughter.’ He knows Mr. Danny. We are both in awe of Mr. Danny’s badassness.”
What the series doesn’t give as much focus to is the pill-mill doctor herself, Jaqueline Cleggett. While there is one brief interview with Cleggett, there aren’t too many other details explained about her. This could be due to her own wishes of not wanting to be interviewed, or some other legal reason we are unaware of. What her interview does give us is her sense of arrogance and inability to accept the consequences of her actions, or responsibility for those who suffered addiction under her care.
“The Pharmacist” is a shocking reality of the opioid and drug crisis we see not only in America, but in our own community of the GNO area. Schneider’s persistence and bravery should be applauded for what he accomplished, and it’s thanks to this documentary that more are able to see the effects of his investigation. However, as this entire series of events was sparked by the death of Schneider’s son, Danny Jr., it begs the question of how many deaths of the Black community, or other minorities, did it take until someone started paying attention to the death of a young white man. This neglect is neither on the part of the documentary filmmakers who succeeded in telling this true tale or on Dan Schneider himself. But it is still a tragedy to see that issues such as this can be passed over so easily until it affects someone with more privilege than others.