"Dr. Phil" Staff Accused Of Giving Alcohol, Drugs To Guests With Addictions

By Bryan Le 01/02/18

“Survivor” star Todd Herzog claims that he was served alcohol and Xanax in the green room before his appearance on the show.

Dr. Phil McGraw seen running errands in NYC.

In a 2013 episode of Dr. Phil, Survivor star Todd Herzog was so drunk that he had to be carried on stage. 

“I’ve never talked to a guest who was closer to death,” said show host Phillip McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, during the episode.

It may come as no surprise that such a television spectacle was manufactured, but Herzog claims that the scene was engineered by the show’s crew by exploiting his alcohol problems. He arrived at the Los Angeles studio sober, but in the dressing room, he found a bottle of Smirnoff vodka waiting for him. After that, someone gave him a Xanax to “calm his nerves.” The episode was going to feature Dr. Phil intervening and rescuing Herzog from his alcohol problems.

“Today, I had an entire bottle, like a liter, of vodka,” Herzog said on the stage of the show. Dr. Phil then performed a breath test on Herzog to reveal a BAC of .263.

People come on to the Dr. Phil show hoping he would save them. Treatment centers treat his guests for free in return for being featured on the show. But Herzog’s claims cast a cynical shadow on the show’s true motivation, and Herzog is not the only person to claim exploitation by the show’s staffers.

An investigation by STAT and the Boston Globe reveals that in the 48 hours prior to the show, guests are left alone to detox in a hotel room. Medical personnel were reportedly not on site to supervise this detox, but show staffers have allegedly enabled or even assisted guests in finding drugs. A relative of a show guest was allegedly given information by a Dr. Phil staffer on where to get heroin. Another guest, pregnant at the time, was allegedly allowed to search for a drug dealer in Los Angeles as a show staffer recorded her.

“It’s a callous and inexcusable exploitation,” said Dr. Jeff Sugar, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Southern California. “These people are barely hanging on. It’s like if one of them was drowning and approaching a lifeboat, and instead of throwing them an inflatable doughnut, you throw them an anchor.”

Representatives of the Dr. Phil show deny the claims. “We do not do that with this guest or any other,” wrote Martin Greenberg, a psychologist who works on the show, adding that the claims were “absolutely, unequivocally untrue.”

Greenberg claimed that anything that the guests do in the 48 hours between arrival in Los Angeles and their appearance on the show is not the fault of the show, as staffers are not allowed to detain them or otherwise restrict guest behavior.

“Addicts are notorious for lying, deflecting and trivializing. But, if they are at risk when they arrive, then they were at risk before they arrived,” Greenberg said in a statement. “The only change is they are one step closer to getting help, typically help they could not have even come close to affording.”

Indeed, many guests and fans of the show see Dr. Phil as someone who can help. Guests come on the show hoping Dr. Phil can fix them, and fans of the show beg for his assistance on the show’s Facebook page. The show’s success has brought Dr. Phil both notoriety and wealth, winning him an award from the American Psychological Association in 2006; McGraw is the highest-paid daytime television personality, earning $79 million last year.

Former employees of the show are also speaking out against the alleged treatment of guests on Dr. Phil. Former segment director Leah Rothman is taking legal action against the show.

“Plaintiff’s experience with Dr. Phil was that his primary interest was not about helping people on the show, but rather, done for the sake of ratings and making money,” says Rothman’s suit. “Dr. Phil often embarrassed guests on his show in their darkest hour, leaving the staff to pick up the pieces of the broken people who had put their trust in Dr. Phil.”

Herzog, now sober, says that while he appreciates being able to find treatment through the show, the events that unfolded there bothered him.

“I’m grateful in a lot of ways for the show. For getting me help in the nicest places in the country. That’s a gift right there,” he said. “There are some things about the show that I don’t like, and that I don’t think are real… I should have been in the hospital, in that sense. There should not be liters of vodka in my dressing room.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter