Guests on the “Dr. Phil” show who struggle with addiction have been supplied with drugs and alcohol before appearing on set for taping, according to a joint investigation between Stat and The Boston Globe published Thursday.
In one shocking example, “Survivor: China” winner Todd Herzog told reporters he appeared on the program drunk as he was dealing with alcoholism in 2013. Herzog said he found a liter of Smirnoff vodka in his dressing room, which he consumed, and was later handed a Xanax pill by a staffer to “calm his nerves.”
The show, hosted by the no-nonsense Southerner Phil McGraw, has been on-air since 2002, but McGraw gained a following with appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” before then.
During the episode with Herzog, who had to be assisted onstage, McGraw said he had “never talked to a guest who was closer to death.”
A family member of another guest told reporters their relative “bought heroin with the knowledge and support of show staff” before a taping. The report also states that “Dr. Phil” staff filmed another guest, who was pregnant, searching for a dealer on Los Angeles’ skid row.
Reporters note that the alleged actions of staffers can make for “riveting” television, but the show’s guests, who stay in hotels up to 48 hours before taping an episode, can experience a possibly dangerous withdrawal period during that time.
In a statement published online Friday, a spokesperson for the “Dr. Phil” show slammed the story as “unsubstantiated.”
“The STAT article does not fairly or accurately describe the methods of the ‘Dr. Phil’ show or its mission to educate millions of viewers about drug and alcohol addiction,” the statement read. “The show does not give drugs or alcohol to its guests and any suggestions to the contrary are errant nonsense.”
A psychologist who works for the show, Martin Greenberg, also denied the claims in the original report. In a statement provided to Stat and the Globe, he said that “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,” the statement continued. “The only change is they are one step closer to getting help, typically help they could not have even come close to affording.” Guests dealing with addiction are typically helped with referrals to treatment facilities.
According to the report, a mutually beneficial relationship between the “Dr. Phil” show and McGraw’s own business interests — namely a digital treatment program available for purchase by treatment facilities — may have contributed to the alleged abuse.
McGraw holds a doctorate in psychology but let his license to practice expire more than a decade ago. Over his television career, he’s faced criticisms and lawsuits for his approach to mental health, which the National Alliance on Mental Illness once called “serious enough to warrant investigation by a relevant board of licensure,” following a 2004 segment in which he diagnosed a 9-year-old boy as a potential killer.
The syndicated show is popular with women ages 25 to 54, a key daytime TV advertising demographic.
HuffPost reached out to a representative for McGraw but did not immediately receive a response.
This story has been updated with comment from a “Dr. Phil” spokesperson.