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Chains ask judge to limit DEA testimony

Attorneys representing Trumbull County in a federal lawsuit against pharmacies alleging responsibility for the opioid crisis, on trial now in Cleveland, are asking the judge not to grant motions filed by Walgreens and CVS seeking to limit the testimony of a former DEA agent.

This case is seen as a bellwether that could encourage or discourage other communities from filing similar suits.

Trumbull and Lake counties filed a joint lawsuit in 2018 over the number of prescription painkillers dispensed in the counties between 2012 and 2016. The amount equaled 400 pills for every resident in Trumbull County, and in Lake County, it equaled 265 pills for every resident.

The counties claim the retail pharmacies helped pump addictive prescription pills into the community, in an irresponsible way that ignored safeguards in order to make money. The pharmacies and the other companies involved in the drug manufacturing, marketing and distribution of the pills helped spur a wave of opioid addiction, which has and is costing millions to address, the counties argue.

The companies deny responsibility.

The suit names Giant Eagle, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS. Rite Aid was a defendant, but the company reached a settlement of $1.5 million with Trumbull County commissioners.

Former DEA agent and official Joseph Rannazzisi is expected to testify in the case, and plaintiffs also have asked the court to videotape his testimony for possible use in future cases.

Walgreens’ attorneys asked Ohio Northern District Court Judge Dan Polster on Monday to limit Rannazzisi’s scope of testimony about any public investigation or settlement involving the company to his own experiences on a case in Florida and to prevent him from offering expert testimony about Walgreens’ policies, procedures or systems “in Florida or elsewhere, because he has not been disclosed as an expert …,” the court document states.

“First, Mr. Rannazzisi lacks the personal knowledge needed to testify as a fact witness about any public investigation or settlement involving Walgreens outside of Florida,” the attorneys argue. “In his deposition last month, Mr. Rannazzisi testified that, with the exception of Florida, he has no ‘personal knowledge’ based on ‘(public) investigations … conducted by DEA’ of any instances of ‘Walgreens filling illegitimate prescriptions.'”

According to a transcript of his September deposition, Rannazzisi said he does not have “personal knowledge” based on “public information” of a Walgreens pharmacist in Ohio filling a prescription that was later diverted.

But, he saw documents made public from an investigation in Florida.

“There was a Florida pharmacy in Oviedo — Oviedo, Florida, where the police chief notified Walgreens on numerous occasions regarding people who were buying drugs in that particular Walgreens pharmacy and then were dealing them out in the parking lot,” Rannazzisi said.

He was limited to answers based on knowledge available to the public.

CVS attorneys made a similar argument, asking the court to preclude Rannazzisi from offering expert testimony about the company, from offering testimony about settlements or investigations about the company, and from testimony about the witness interviews and meetings related tot he DEA investigation in Florida.

Attorneys for Trumbull County argued the court shouldn’t grant the companies’ requests and state the “arguments are without merit.”

“Contrary to CVS’s assertions, Mr. Rannazzisi does have personal knowledge of the (Florida) investigation and decision, as he will explain at trial. During that time period, he was the deputy assistant administrator for DEA’s Office of Diversion Control. In that role, he was responsible for all cases…,” the court documents state.

Rannazzisi does have personal knowledge of settlements and investigations involving the pharmacies, the attorneys argue. They only intend to seek testimony about the CVS investigation and settlement in Florida and a 2011 Walgreens settlement in California — that applied to all Walgreens pharmacy locations, the document states.

And, Rannazzisi is already appearing as a fact witness, and not an expert witness, the county attorneys argue.

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