Attorneys representing pharmacies being sued by Trumbull and Lake Counties over opioid prescriptions are trying to stop Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board Executive Director April Caraway from telling a jury that prescription opioids have been a “gateway” to other drug use.

The trial, now in its third week, alleges the way Walgreens, CVS, Eckard, Walmart, and Giant Eagle pharmacies dispensed pain pills contributed to the opioid crisis and constituted a public nuisance in their communities.

Lawyers for the pharmacies argue that Caraway and her counterpart from Lake County lack personal knowledge and their testimony would be improper and based on hearsay.

The attorneys for the counties are pushing back, telling Judge Aaron Polster that Caraway has worked on the opioid crisis for nearly 18 years with experience reviewing and compiling opioid-related data and education campaigns.

“In my professional experience, when opiate pain meds are prescribed, it is a gateway to long-term addiction and death just, again, what I’ve seen 80 percent of the time.” Caraway testified in a deposition taken earlier this year.

Also set to testify for the counties is Sheriff’s Captain Tony Villanueva, Commander of the Trumbull Action Group drug task force.

The plaintiffs are particularly interested in a 2010 TAG investigation into Douglas Winland who was being prescribed Oxycodone and Hydrocodone from several different doctors.

According to state records, Winland had been prescribed 2,340 pills during a five-month period by thirteen different doctors.  

Investigators say Winland went to six different pharmacies in Trumbull County to get those prescriptions filled, including two Walgreens pharmacies, one CVS pharmacy, and Franklin Pharmacy.

In trial briefs, the pharmacy companies argue that they followed guidelines established by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the state of Ohio in how their stores dispensed painkillers.

 The counties claim that between 2000 and 2014, the pharmacies dispensed 68-million doses of opioids in Trumbull County.  With a population of 209,000, attorneys say that is the equivalent of 320 pills for every resident during the period.

Attorneys for CVS, based in Rhode Island, said the allegations against the company “are completely unfounded.”

“The evidence presented at trial will show not only that CVS met the legal requirements for distributing prescription opioid medications in Lake and Trumbull Counties, but that it exceeded them,” attorneys for the company wrote.

The trial is s expected to last around six weeks, could set the tone for similar lawsuits against retail pharmacy chains by government entities across the U.S.

Judge Polster earlier approved a tentative settlement between the counties and Rite-Aid.