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'The Pharmacist' On Netflix Reveals How The Opioid Epidemic Started In The United States Due To Purdue Pharma, Oxycontin, And Pill Mills

The Pharmacist‘ is a 4 hour documentary that was released within the past month on Netflix. It shows how the current opioid epidemic in the United States started and how it escalated to crisis proportions, and one man’s fight to stop it.

The story begins with Dan Schneider’s son Danny getting shot in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans while buying crack. Dan Schneider and the rest of his family is devastated, and the first 1.5 of hours of the documentary show how he worked for well over a year to find his son’s killer, by going door to door in the lower 9th ward and calling every number in the phone book to get information.

After the murder trial for his son’s killer is over, Dan Schneider eventually goes back to work at a local pharmacy in St. Bernard Parish. He soon notices that lots of people were coming in with prescriptions for oxycontin, a painkiller that was launched in 1995 and nationally advertised as a wonder drug. Essentially, oxycontin branded itself as a medication which could just be taken twice a day, since it had an extended release mechanism that lasted 12 hours, and it was pushed as a cure for all aches and pains, while simultaneously being advertised as not that addictive.

The truth is that oxycontin is essentially heroin in pill form, producing the same physiological effects and addiction as heroin. This is especially the case because people who abused oxycontin quickly learned to chew up the pills, crush them and snort them, or even inject them, defeating the time release mechanism and getting a massive dose all at once.

Tragically, oxycontin is deadly just like heroin, since it can shut down the respiratory system. One of the people interviewed in the documentary said she took a high dose and it was like she didn’t even exist anymore, and when she awoke she was on a breathing machine for 3 weeks, which was incredibly frightening because she couldn’t breathe herself. As tragic and scary as that is, at least she is alive, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died due to opiate and synthetic opioid overdoses.

Dan Schneider began asking the people coming into his pharmacy lots of questions, and soon discovered that almost all of the oxycontin prescriptions were coming from Dr. Cleggett. Apparently Dr. Cleggett was originally a pediatrician, but she opened up a pain management clinic, and wrote prescriptions for anyone who paid the $250 appointment fee. There was even a $100 ‘stat fee’ that people paid if they wanted to be seen quicker.

Dr. Cleggett’s office was incredibly abnormal. She only showed up in the middle of the night, and patients would wait in the office for many hours, or even for days apparently. There was a smell throughout the office and parking lot of cigarettes and body odor due to the multitudes of people camping there waiting for a prescription. Patients who got their prescription would even come right back to the office to sell pills to people who were still waiting.

Further, a New Orleans police officer was constantly in the office, indicating a degree of local government corruption in supporting the operation. Also notably, Dr. Cleggett would see almost 100 patients every night, far more than a true doctor who is doing due diligence could handle.

Essentially, Dr. Cleggett’s office was a pill mill. Dan Schneider spent countless days investigating Dr. Cleggett in order to get her shutdown, since the prescriptions that Dr. Cleggett was writing were decimating the community. Dan Schneider’s work became more frantic as overdose deaths began to spike, and he even quit his pharmacist job temporarily since he didn’t want to be the one to dispense potentially lethal medications to patients.

Dan Schneider went back to work eventually, in the belief that he would find a ‘smoking gun’ to finally bust Dr. Cleggett. That smoking gun came in the form of a young girl who came in with her mother with prescriptions for 80 mg oxycontin, 100 mg of valium, in addition to roxicodone and soma, which was a deadly chemical cocktail for anyone, let alone a young girl. The girl had sickle cell anemia apparently, and the hospital that discharged her thought the pain could be managed with just Tylenol, but apparently the mother took the girl to Dr. Cleggett in order to capitalize on the girl’s condition.

Dan Schneider reported this incident to the medical board, and they finally raided Dr. Cleggett’s office, and found piles of cash and boxes full of filled out prescriptions that just had to be dated and assigned to a patient. It was discovered that Dr. Cleggett herself was terribly addicted to the same prescriptions she was prescribing, and ultimately she ended up in rehab and then crashed her car and sustained severe injuries. Due to this Dr. Cleggett got a very light sentence of probation and no jail time, since it seemed divine justice had already been served.

After this Dan Schneider thought things would be solved, but it only got worse. Pill mills that copy catted Dr. Cleggett’s operation popped up everywhere. Dan Schneider compares it to a cancer that metastasized. The situation was exacerbated further when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, since the ensuing pain and suffering led to an explosion of prescription opioid abuse.

Dan Schneider then came up with a solution. He had seen that in other states there was a system which tracked how many narcotics prescriptions doctors were prescribing, and how many prescriptions each patient was receiving. This made it easy to identify pill mills and patients that were doctor shopping, whereas before patients could go from pill mill to pill mill and from pharmacy to pharmacy to obtain a vast amount of synthetic opioids.

Due to Dan Schneider’s efforts this system was implemented in his local area, and it was successful in dramatically curtailing prescription opioid abuse, since it revealed all the pill mills and they were shutdown, and patients could no longer fill an excessive amount of opioid prescriptions, since pharmacies began refusing them.

However, this led to an even worse crisis, since most of the people who were turned into opioid addicts in previous years from the excessive over prescribing of oxycontin and other narcotics turned to buying heroin on the street rather than go through the hellish withdrawal and recovery process. The cartels capitalized on this situation and flooded the streets with heroin, and opioid overdose cases skyrocketed to far worse levels than ever before. This is especially because heroin users do not know how much heroin is in their dose due to varying levels of cuts in the product, and heroin could be cut with Fentanyl, which is an order of magnitude more potent than heroin and extremely deadly.

After all this Dan Schneider said that he didn’t even know if he did the right thing, since the problem was worse than before. The documentary then discusses the eventual fall of Purdue Pharma, the company behind oxycontin. However, no real justice was served there since the people behind Purdue Pharma essentially laundered most of the money overseas and declared bankruptcy, and no individual was criminally convicted, despite Purdue Pharma’s actions sparking an opioid epidemic that led to the overdose deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, a crisis that continues to this day.

That’s where the documentary ends, and it presents no real solution to the problem. Another chapter to this story does exist though. Kratom is now gaining popularity across the United States as a safe alternative to synthetic opioids and opiates. Kratom does not cause overdose deaths like synthetic opioids and opiates since it does not cause respiratory depression, since Kratom is an atypical opioid. Indeed, Kratom has never been proven to have caused a single death in history.

Literally, Kratom is the miracle that can end the opioid epidemic for good. Kratom provides the relief that pain patients need, and people who are opioid dependent can take Kratom and no longer have cravings for synthetic opioids and opiates. Simultaneously, Kratom does not kill anyone. Further, people who take Kratom report that they get their life back, since Kratom causes very little addiction and does not impair cognitive function. Some stories of opioid dependent people who had their life saved by Kratom can be seen in the documentary ‘A Leaf of Faith‘.

Thus, I highly recommend watching ‘The Pharmacist’, since it reveals in great detail the forces that led to the current opioid epidemic. The only thing that could make ‘The Pharmacist’ better is adding ‘A Leaf of Faith’ to the end of it, since it is always good to end a story about a problem with the story about the solution, since in the case of the opioid epidemic Kratom is clearly the solution.