Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett was a pediatrician turned pain management doctor who was under investigation on allegations of running a pill mill in Louisiana.
Although she never spent time in prison, she was indicted and faced lawsuits from former patients and lost her medical license. She is the doctor at the heart of the investigation featured on “The Pharmacist,” a four-part Netflix original airing February 5, 2020.
Pharmacist Dan Schneider noticed that many people were coming to his pharmacy to fill prescriptions for OxyContin. At the time, it was a new pain medication touted as a miracle drug. Schneider had recently concluded an investigation into the murder of his son, Danny Schneider Jr., who was shot while purchasing crack cocaine in the Lower 9th Ward April 14, 1999. You can read more about Dan Schneider here and about Danny Jr. here.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jacqueline Cleggett Grew Up in a Small Mississippi Town & Had 3 Children With an Emergency Room Doctor
Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett was born in a small town in southern Mississippi called Moss Point. She earned her medical degree from the Morehouse School of Medicine, at a historically black university in Atlanta, and later completed her residency program in internal medicine and pediatrics at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, according to The Times-Picayune.
Around the time she completed her residency, she divorced her husband and took custody of her three children. Her husband was an emergency room physician.
“Throughout the 1990s, court depositions show, Cleggett pursued an ambitious if itinerant medical career in New Orleans,” the article said. “After a brief stint as a family practitioner, she found higher pay as a contractor for Gulf South Medical Consultants, where she specialized in soft tissue exams for personal injury clients. Dr. Stewart Altman, a colleague at Gulf South, remembers Cleggett as a ‘competent and personable’ physician who spoke often about her kids.”
She opened her own practice while still working for Gulf South. A colleague worried she would burn out, the newspaper reported. It eventually became too demanding, and she moved to a new location – the practice featured on “The Pharmacist.” She earned a certificate in pain management around the same time.
“Across the top of the facade, Cleggett installed a giant neon sign reading: ‘JACQUELINE R. CLEGGETT, M.D. Internal Medicine & Pediatrics.’ A smaller sign on the side of the road advertised her new status as a pain management specialist,” The Times-Picayune reported.
2. Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett’s Medical Practice Was in a Former Scuba Diving Shop Guarded by Police Officers
Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett opened her medical practice in a high-crime area known for prostitution in early 2000. Her practice was in a two-story building that once housed a scuba shop and had an indoor pool. It was adjacent to an overgrown lot. She hired New Orleans Police officers for security details, and her live-in boyfriend, who was a commissioned member of the Civil Sheriff’s Office, guarded the door, according to The Times-Picayune.
Robbie, a former patient of Cleggett’s who befriended Schneider, said on the show a police officer once tried to pay him for services in prescriptions. Robbie worked for a printer repair shop, and serviced the printer at Cleggett’s office. The bill came to about $300 or $400, and Cleggett handed him prescriptions. When he said he needed cash to bring back to his employer, a police officer returned carrying the prescriptions, he said on the show. He said the officer told him it was in his best interest to leave with the prescriptions.
Investigators on the Netflix show said they saw license plates of patients from multiple states including Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. She did not give patients exams before prescribing them strong painkillers, and treated up to 76 patients in a day, often overnight. Most of the patients received identical prescriptions. They paid in cash, and Cleggett deposited nearly $2 million cash in one year, according to the Netflix show.
3. Jacqueline Clegget Caught Dan Schneider’s Attention With a High Number of OxyContin Prescriptions
Pharmacist Dan Schneider noticed a high number of people coming into his pharmacy to fill prescriptions for OxyContin. At first, he would simply try to warn patients of the addiction potential for the drug. But eventually, he could no longer ignore the problem. He looked over the pharmacy’s paperwork and made a startling discovery.
“90 percent of our prescriptions were for OxyContin, and 99 percent of those were Jacqueline Cleggett,” Schneider said on the show.
Typically, a doctor would prescribe a patient a lower dose of a painkiller, and increase the dosage as needed. Cleggett would start patients on a high dosage, typically 40 milligrams of OxyContin, according to the Netflix show. She also prescribed Soma, a narcotic muscle relaxer, and Xanax, an anxiety drug which is often abused. The three medications are known as “The Holy Trinity.”
Patients on the show said they paid $250 to be seen by Cleggett and could pay an extra $150 to be seen quickly. One patient said he waited for 12 hours to be seen. One of his friends, another patient at the clinic, once waited two days in the office to be seen. It was common for patients to resell their prescriptions to those who were waiting. Pills would go for $30 to $80, they said on the show.
4. Jacqueline Cleggett Was Seriously Injured in a Car Accident, Lost Her Medical License & Worked at Taco Bell
Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett’s life unraveled after she lost her medical license following a lengthy investigation by the DEA. In 2001, a search warrant at her home revealed piles of clothing lying throughout the house, pre-signed prescription slips and half-done patient charts, The Times-Picayune reported. Law enforcement also found evidence she was also using hydrocodone pills.
During the investigation, she allegedly threatened law enforcement.
“She told us, ‘Everyone who’s responsible for this – DEA, NOPD – you’re all dead,'” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
In 2004, she filed for bankruptcy, sold her mansion, dropped her health insurance because she could not afford it, and started homeschooling her children. She worked for a time as an assistant manager at Taco Bell.
She eventually lost her license to practice medicine. While she was hoping to restore her license through hearings, she was involved in a car accident and seriously injured in 2006. She was in a coma for a month, and awoke with substantial brain injuries.
“At the time of the accident, she was studying for the medical board exams in hopes of reapplying for her license. But a medical evaluator later wrote that her injuries left “almost no chance” of her practicing medicine again. ‘In fact,’ the evaluator added, ‘she may not ever be able to live and function independently,’ The Times-Picayune reported.
You can read the official revocation order for her DEA registration revocation here.
It says, in part, “On July 19, 2002, Judge Randall issued her Opinion, Order, and Recommended Ruling of the Administrative Law Judge (Opinion and Recommended Ruling) where she granted the Government’s motion for summary disposition and found that the Respondents lack authorization to handle controlled substances in the State of Louisiana. In granting the Government’s motion, Judge Randall also recommended that the Respondents’ DEA registration be revoked and any pending applications for renewal be denied. Neither party filed exceptions to her Opinion and Recommended Ruling, and on October 29, 2002, Judge Randall transmitted the record of these proceedings to the Office of the Deputy Administrator. The Deputy Administrator has considered the record in its entirety, and pursuant to 21 CFR 1316.67, hereby issues his final order based upon findings of fact and conclusions of law as hereinafter set forth.”
5. Jacqueline Cleggett Was Sued by Former Patients & Indicted on Drug Charges
Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett escaped prison time because she had been severely injured in a car accident, according to The Times-Picayune.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana indicted Cleggett on Feb. 2, 2007. The 37-count indictment charged her with illegally distributing OxyContin, Vicodin, methadone and other drugs between June 2000 and February 2002. She faced up to 20 years in jail and a $1 million fine. However, at the time, she was living in an assisted-living facility, and many of her charges were dropped because of the cost to incarcerate a paralytic. In 2009, she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to dispense and distribute controlled substances. In lieu of jail time, the court imposed three years of probation.
Cleggett also faced a slew of lawsuits from former patients and their family members. One lawsuit, which you can read here, named Cleggett along with Purdue Pharma. It was filed in 2003, alleging the patient suffered injuries from OxyContin and became addicted.
Another lawsuit, which you can read here, made similar allegations. The suit alleges she committed medical malpractice in prescribing OxyContin to a patient, who became addicted and suffered injuries from the medication.
Cleggett also prescribed the medication that led to a fatal overdose, according to Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE).
“A WWL-TV investigation discovers that OxyContin, a powerful painkiller popular among drug users, could be easily obtained by prescription from certain doctors,” IRE reported. “Those were writing prescriptions after performing only cursory physicals, and their offices were crowded by drug addicts until late in the night. Many prescriptions have been filled through Medicaid, WWL-TV reports. The investigation sheds light on one specific case – those of Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett – who wrote an OxyContin prescription to a patient whose son died from an injected overdose.”