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Culture Documentary

Preventive care

(Netflix)

Documentary

Preventive care

A new documentary recounts how his son’s drug-related death inspired a pharmacist to investigate his murder—and an industry

The day you read this, approximately 125 Americans will die of an opioid overdose. One in 5 teenage deaths in 2016 in the United States was related to opioid addiction. Netflix’s new documentary, The Pharmacist, tells one man’s quest to make his son’s drug-related death prevent some of those deaths.

Pharmacist Dan Schneider was a regular family man living on the outskirts of New Orleans, raising his son and daughter. Danny Jr. was a regular teen with regular problems but a bright future. But the Schneiders’ world came crashing down when the police knocked on their door late one night in 1999: Someone shot and killed Danny Jr. in the Lower Ninth Ward, a troubled neighborhood and a common place to buy drugs.

Shock, disbelief, grief—viewers hear and see those raw emotions, through recordings Dan made soon after his son’s death and in more recent interviews. The scenes are poignant and powerful. The Schneiders were not even aware Danny Jr. was using drugs, or that he had been out that night.

Dan Sr. vowed to find out more about his son’s death and investigate his murder after growing disillusioned with the New Orleans Police Department. He developed a massive library of tapes chronicling his quest for justice, which ultimately resulted in a murder conviction. 

Dan Sr. returned to normal life as a pharmacist. But he noticed a disturbing trend: Doctors were prescribing OxyContin, a painkilling opioid, far more frequently and in higher doses than seemed necessary. Patients were dying of overdoses.

Schneider tracked down one particular doctor whose practice was little more than a pill mill addicts from hundreds of miles away visited. They camped out for days to get their prescriptions and returned as quickly as possible for refills. When federal agents moved too slowly, Schneider acted on his own. He pushed for the local medical board to remove the doctor’s license and won.

Meanwhile, other pill mills popped up all over the country, as OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma continued marketing, despite evidence that it was far more addictive than initially advertised. Interviews with foul-mouthed but seemingly honest Purdue sales representatives provide more insight into the company’s aggressive marketing and seeming lack of care about the drug’s effects. Eventually Purdue Pharma, after selling an estimated $35 billion of OxyContin, faced lawsuits from states and counties across the country. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2019.

The Pharmacist is a powerful story of how one man’s persistence and courage can make a difference. Viewers should be aware of some blasphemous and foul language.