Douglas Dodd had a fast rise as a serious player in the illegal painkiller scene in Florida. Then he got busted by the feds and tried to turn his life around.
Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images)/Photo courtesy Douglas Dodd
On the outside, Douglas Dodd might have seemed like a clean-cut kid devoted to his high-school wrestling team near Tampa, Florida. But at 17, the young athlete started buying 100 Oxycontin pills at a time, mostly selling them to friends. Within two years, he had gone big-time, assembling an opioid-pill trafficking network in partnership with a close pal from the wrestling team, Lance Barabas. They shipped all over the country, often receiving payment in the form of cash stuffed into teddy bears.
For a while in his late teens, Dodd was riding high on the "Oxy Express." But his crew grew reckless when expanding their operation to 20,000 pills a month, and in 2009, Dodd got pinched by the feds.
By the time the teenager started serving an 80-month prison sentence, newspapers were flooded with headlines about the opioid epidemic in the United States, and Dodd resolved to get his story out there. Of course, Hollywood had been telling tales about the rise and fall of young drug lords practically forever, but there weren't many detailed accounts he knew of revolving around young people selling pharmaceuticals like Oxy. Eventually Dodd began corresponding with journalist Guy Lawson, who wrote a long feature about him for Rolling Stone that has since been optioned for film.
But it's one thing to see someone dramatize your descent into drugs and crime, and another to come to terms with it yourself—and maybe earn the money to land on your feet in the process. That's what Dodd is trying to do with his new book Generation Oxy: From High School Wrestlers to Pain Pill Kingpins, out this month. I recently caught up with Dodd—who's out of prison and giddy at the prospect of a legit existence—by phone. We broached everything from how he got involved in selling pills, what he did in prison to set the stage for his reintegration back to society, and why his story is so relevant in light of the recent 60 Minutes/Washington Post report linking Big Pharma with members of Congress.
Here's what he had to say.
VICE: Was there anything in your background or early life that might have hinted at your going down this path of selling pills like Oxy?
Douglas Dodd: My uncle went to prison for drugs. I had an uncle on the other side of the family that dealt. Just that atmosphere and environment I was brought up in. My parents divorced when I was five, and my mother's boyfriends and husbands have always been—my mom is kind of an alcoholic, and all they did was party. That was the culture. I'd take marijuana from them from a young age and I ended up getting in some trouble. My mom and I were at each other's throats, so I [went] to stay with my grandmother.
I had an older cousin, about ten years older than me, who lived down the street from my grandma's. He got involved in prescription pain pills. I was going to school, was getting straight A's. [But my grandma] let me go hang out over there. I tried a pill a couple of times and before you know it, it started being more than an occasional thing. I came across people who were taking pills and looking for some. I asked my cousin and he hooked me up with an older biker dude. I ended up buying 100 pills and flipping them. I started networking and the story just progressed rapidly.
I went to prison for high-level drug dealing when I was young, too. How did you handle hard time at such a young age—did you respond well while in there?
It was kind of scary. I didn't know what to expect—I didn't really know the difference between federal and state before I got in trouble. We were literally flying Con-Air. It was Diesel Therapy. I kept my head low and tried to stay focused and clear of all the BS. There's a lot of shit going on and it's hard not to get caught up in it. Whether you just want to hang out and party or gamble or whatnot. All my homeboys were on the basketball court, football [field] every day and I was in the library reading.
What did you do in prison to prepare for your eventual release?
I got a master certification in personal training. I learned Spanish. I got certifications in business communications and HVAC refrigeration. I just enjoyed using that time as much as I could trying to prepare myself for the outside. I wanted to be able to walk out and not have any difficulties, even though that's nearly impossible for anybody. I wrote the book and tried to better myself anyway I could. I'd find anybody that had any kind of knowledge that I wanted and I'd rub elbows with them. I'd be in some form of class—whether it was real estate, economics, importing, or exporting, all the time. I went to school the whole five years. I looked at it as being away at school for five years. I bettered myself mentally, physically and emotionally.
Besides the individuals who sell pills on the black market, what's your own perspective on who or what is causing this opioid epidemic that the government just declared a public health emergency?
Corporate greed, politics, money—that pretty much sums it all up in the most simplistic way. They created this persona to the American people that these drug dealers are bad: people like me and my buddies. Lance goes to jail for 15 years and they wanted to give him life. They wanted to give a 20-year-old kid that's never been arrested before life in federal prison for selling prescription pain pills. You have people higher up casting the shadow down on kids—college students—and you threaten them with life in federal prison. Yet you're saying your coworkers, your constituents, your people—the ones who ignited the fire, the ones making millions of dollars off of it—[are ok] and nothing happens to them. They get a little fine and they carry on.
You've been out a couple of years now. What are you actually doing with yourself? Is your existence really different from before?
[The release of the book] is laying the groundwork. I want to start [a foundation] and [work] two different areas, such as helping other people with drug addictions and getting into public speaking. Traveling throughout the US at different universities speaking on various topics. I just started a website which basically gives a broad view of the story and any other latest news. I want to link up with some notable products that can help people with opioid addictions and open up a treatment center.
Since I've been out, I graduated college with a 4.0 from a technical college in Hillsborough County [Florida] for logistics and distribution management. I got a certification through Apex—the leading organization in supply chain management. Right now, I've got four classes left until I get my degree in business communications. People just have to take a look back and realize [that] where they are today doesn't mean this is where they have to be tomorrow.
What do your co-defendants, friends, and family think of the book and movie deal? Do they have doubts about your profiting off this, and how involved will you be in, say, the movie?
Mixed emotions depending upon who you talk to. [Some people] are really happy, but then you have the haters. A lot of people haven't had the chance to read it, so they don't know the [direction] I'm going. But a year from now I think it will be nothing but high-fives. They just renewed the option [for the movie]. That's really good news and as far as I know the movie is in preproduction. Mark Mallouk is the screenwriter. He just wrote the movie Black Mass with Johnny Depp. He told me I'm going to be on the edit as some type of producer. My goal is to be in it. I want a minor role. I want to be the wrestling coach, or I want to be the prosecutor, or the cop, that's what I'm shooting for. I'm pretty sure I'll have a cameo, a walkthrough, but I'm shooting for a minor role.
Realistically, what should people get from this book besides a warning, or gawking at you?
We all [come from] different walks of life and we all make mistakes. I definitely want to open [people's] eyes [to the fact] that it could be anyone's kid that's going to prison. Mass incarceration is fucking ridiculous. It's like a human warehousing system and it only creates more problems of moving forward within the society. I think society needs to give the opportunity to non-violent offenders—specifically a chance to really have redemption, just like a credit report: after seven years it falls off. Some states have already started to implement stuff like that. I think that should be mandatory.
Learn more about Dodd's book, out this month from Skyhorse Publishing, here.
Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter.