“All these people died, and it happened under my watch,” claims Joe Rannazzisi, former Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Rannazzisi ran the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, which is the division that regulates, investigates and prosecutes the pharmaceutical industry, and he’s set to present the opening plenary session for the 2018 Bench Bar Conference in Louisville June 14 – 16.
In a recent investigation conducted by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post, Rannazzisi details his experience at the DEA during the height of the opioid crisis, which has claimed approximately 200,000 lives over the course of the last two decades.
The former-agent holds a pharmacy degree and a law degree and places the blame for the epidemic on the country’s biggest pharmaceutical distributors.
“This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs,” says Rannazzisi.
In 2013, Rannazzisi noted he and his investigators were working to eradicate drug shipments from big distributors to pharmacies across the country when new legislation was introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino, essentially eliminating the DEA’s ability to stop the spread of dangerous drugs.
Rannazzisi had previously been a witness before Congress more than 30 times and was called on to testify about this bill. Emotions were high and he felt so strongly about the potential detriment caused by the bill that he lashed out at Marino.
The bill passed through both the Senate and the House with no objections and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in the spring of 2016.
Congress later launched an investigation against Rannazzisi and his “tactics,” and he was stripped of his responsibilities at the DEA. He eventually resigned.
“I think the drug industry – the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores – have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and their money and got a whole statute changed because they didn’t like it,” claims Rannazzisi.
The opioid crisis has either directly or indirectly affected most Americans in some way, especially those who practice law. Whether you’ve worked with criminal defendants, have had clients whose families have been impacted by the epidemic, or have been personally devastated by its effects, you can find its ruins anywhere.
Rannazzisi’s opening plenary session, covering in more detail his experience with the DEA and his legal work with big-name pharmaceutical distributors, will kick off the annual conference this summer. Attracting hundreds of attorneys, judicial officers and guests, attendees of the conference can receive a minimum of six hours of CLE credit (ethics included) and will be provided the absolute best access of judges to lawyers. Registration is now open at special early bird pricing! See registration details and reserve your spot now at indybenchbar.org. The countdown is on: don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience!•
Information and quotes from this article were obtained from the original 60 Minutes interview. The full interview, “The Whistleblower,” can be found at cbsnews.com/60-minutes.