‘Thanks, doc,’ 3 Doors Down guitarist said before drugs killed him

Matthew Roberts, guitarist and co-founder of 3 Doors Down, was found dead Aug. 20, 2016, in the hallway of a Wisconsin hotel. An Alabama doctor has been charged in a federal indictment with unlawfully prescribing narcotics to Roberts.
Matthew Roberts, guitarist and co-founder of 3 Doors Down, was found dead Aug. 20, 2016, in the hallway of a Wisconsin hotel. An Alabama doctor has been charged in a federal indictment with unlawfully prescribing narcotics to Roberts. Sun Herald File

The beginning of the end for former 3 Doors Down guitarist Matthew Roberts came on Aug. 17 when he texted an Alabama doctor and friend he referred to as “Snelly.”

“Hey, doc,” the Escatawpa native wrote, “I’m having the honor of playing a show for the Air Force in Milwaukee on Saturday night and fly out on Friday am. Is is ok for me to visit you first thing in the am around 7:30ish or would you rather me come in late in the evening? I heard your office in (Spanish Fort) turned out really nice btw.”

The doctor texted back and told Roberts to come to Spanish Fort at 6:30.

“Golden!” Roberts responded. “Thanks doc.”

The texts, a drug addiction that had taken hold by 2003, the doctor’s willingness to prescribe drugs for Roberts and his death Aug. 20 in a hotel hallway are all described in a sworn statement from Michael H. Burt, special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The statement is filed in U.S. District Court in Mobile, along with a five-page indictment that charges Dr. Richard Snellgrove, an internist in Fairhope and Spanish Fort, with six counts of unlawfully prescribing controlled substances to Roberts.

On five occasions, the prescriptions were written to relatives of Roberts, the charges say, including his father, brother and a cousin. On the sixth and final occasion, the 38-year-old Roberts, who lived in Spanish Fort, secured prescriptions after texting Snellgrove.

Drugs he took

The agent lays out the story in his affidavit.

Snellgrove claimed he had prescribed fentanyl patches for Roberts to help with arthritis in his hands. The doctor also is charged with unlawfully prescribing Roberts other painkillers in the opioid family of drugs and benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety.

Roberts picked up his last prescriptions Aug. 18 from Snellgrove — one for the painkiller fentanyl and a second for Norco, also an opioid.

The musician filled the Norco prescription at a pharmacy across the street from Snellgrove’s clinic in Spanish Fort, but the pharmacy did not have the 50-microgram fentanyl patches Snellgrove prescribed. The pharmacist was wary of filling a stronger, 75-microgram prescription when Roberts said he could get one from Snellgrove.

So Roberts took the new prescription to a different pharmacy and got the stronger patches. The doctor had advised Roberts to apply one every 72 hours.

Roberts and his father, Darrell Roberts Sr., flew Aug. 19 to Milwaukee, where Roberts was playing as a celebrity guitarist with the rock band Nix in a benefit concert for veterans.

When they landed, the two went to the band leader’s house.

“Several people noted that Matthew seemed very tired, somewhat off, confused, and had a slightly slurred speech,” the agent’s statement said. “However, no one reported seeing Matthew ingest any drugs or alcohol …”

Final hours

On Aug. 20, the band rehearsed until 1 a.m. Roberts and his father returned to adjoining rooms at the Hampton Inn in West Bend, Wisconsin. Matt Roberts seemed “intoxicated or high,” the agents’ statement said.

Roberts and his father bought snacks in the lobby at 1:30 a.m. Darrell Roberts’ key card wasn’t working, so his son went to the lobby to get him another.

The hotel desk clerk said Roberts seemed disoriented. He told her, “I’m sorry. I’m delirious.” She pointed him to the elevator.

His father went into his room and fell asleep. A hotel guest reported someone sleeping in the hallway at 7:28 a.m. next to a backpack and guitar case. Officers who responded said Matthew Roberts looked as if he had been dead for several hours.

Two prescription bottles in the backpack contained painkillers and anxiety medication. Roberts had a fentanyl patch on his right side and adhesive from a second patch on his back.

After reviewing a toxicology report, a medical examiner concluded Roberts had overdosed on fentanyl, hydrocodone and alprazolam.

Struggle with drugs

People close to Matthew Roberts, whose names were blacked out of the DEA agent’s statement, described his struggle with drugs. One person said he held Roberts through the night “like a baby” in 2003 while he was going through withdrawals.

Another said the musician’s problem was “painfully” obvious during a 3 Doors Down tour of Europe in 2012.

“After the tour,” the statement said, “the band broke up and Matthew went to rehab in Tucson, Arizona.”

Roberts’ father told the Sun Herald on Wednesday he would not dispute what the charges against Snellgrove say. He said he didn’t want to talk about the case because he does not want to compromise the investigation. He has, he said, talked at length with investigators.

The agent’s statement indicated Matthew Roberts used various ruses to talk family members into acquiring drugs for him from Snellgrove.

“He was my son and always will be,” Darrell Roberts said. “He will always be loved and missed.”

Darrell Roberts is proud of what his son accomplished. The guitarist grew up in the little town of Escatawpa, with no connection to the music industry, and managed to become world famous with his Escatawpa bandmates after their single “Kryptonite” hit the charts in 2000.

Fame jolted Matthew Roberts, who suffered from severe anxiety, his father said.

“They’re reaching out and screaming for help,” he said, “but most of the time, we don’t see that.”

Drugs masked the anxiety.

“As he attained success,” his father said, “he got in with doctors who would write prescriptions for whatever he wanted.

“The only thing I’m interested in is my son, and no matter what they do at this point, it won’t bring him back.”