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Opioid overdose in Warren, Ohio. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The city of Detroit yesterday joined a torrent of an estimated 400 cities, counties and states suing opioid makers. Their main allegation: the companies are complicit in an addiction crisis that has killed about 37,000 people in the U.S. in just the 12-month period ending in May, or 103 per day.

  • Read this statistic: When you add in heroin, to which opioid addicts often turn because it's cheaper and often easier to obtain, the 12-month number of opioid deaths through May exceeds 53,000, meaning 145 people per day.

More suits will be filed this week in Illinois, and Paul Hanly, one of the leading lawyers for the plaintiffs, tells Axios that the number of cases will rise to almost 1,000 by this time next year, a deliberate strategy of driving the opioid-makers to the negotiating table. The suits, first filed in 2014, have vastly accelerated pace this year. In a settlement, Hanly said, "we're talking tens of billions if not hundreds of billions for a nationwide resolution." The lawyers' model is 1990s litigation that led to a $246 billion settlement with Big Tobacco under similar allegations.

  • Any settlement, Hanly said, is meant to reimburse localities for services like ambulance, hospitalization and, too often, morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries.
  • The lawsuits list Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, the principal opioid on the market; Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Endo and others. In September, Purdue filed motions to dismiss lawsuits filed by the states of Ohio and Wisconsin. If it wins, the company presumably will use that as a model for its defense.

In a statement given to Axios, Purdue said, "We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we've distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense."

Go deeper

U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows

Data: BLS; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% from 6.9%, the government said on Friday.

Why it matters: The labor market continues to recover even as coronavirus cases surge— though it's still millions of jobs short of the pre-pandemic level. The problem is that the rate of recovery is slowing significantly.

2 hours ago - Health

Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot"

The government's top infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci said Friday that he "absolutely" will accept the offer from President-elect Joe Biden to serve as his chief medical adviser, telling NBC's "Today" that he said yes "right on the spot."

Why it matters: President Trump had a contentious relationship with Fauci, who has been forced during the pandemic to correct many of the president's false claims about the coronavirus. Biden, meanwhile, has emphasized the importance of "listening to the scientists" throughout his campaign and transition.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Highlights from Biden and Harris' first joint interview since the election

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down with CNN on Thursday for their first joint interview since the election.

The big picture: In the hour-long segment, the twosome laid out plans for responding to the pandemic, jump-starting the economy and managing the transition of power, among other priorities.