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Oxycodone. Photo: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

An Ohio district court judge's procedural ruling in the national opioids lawsuit Wednesday has big implications — because it could open up opioid makers, drug distributors and others to face serious charges in court.

Why it matters: The plaintiffs — various cities, counties and states — are suing the health care companies for their role in the opioid epidemic. Yesterday's ruling, in which the judge denied health care companies' motion to dismiss the lawsuit, may increase the amount of money at stake, which would go toward the fallout from the epidemic.

  • "It is accurate to describe the opioid epidemic as a man-made plague, 20 years in the making. The pain, death, and heartache it has wrought cannot be overstated," Judge Dan Polster said in the ruling.

While the judge sustained nearly all of the legal theories on which the plaintiffs are suing the opioid companies, 2 are particularly important, according to Joe Rice, one of the plaintiff's lead attorneys.

  • The plaintiffs are suing under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. If the plaintiffs win on this charge, the companies would have to pay for the damage caused.
  • The plaintiffs are also allowed to proceed on a "public nuisance" claim. If the defendants are found liable, Rice says, they would have to cure or abate the nuisance — putting them on the hook for even more money.
  • Purdue Pharma, one of the defendants and the one named on yesterday's ruling, declined to comment.

We don't know yet whether this case will go to trial or whether the parties will eventually settle. But the seriousness of the charges will inevitably affect that calculation.

  • "I think this makes the case much easier to try," Rice says.

Go deeper: Where the national opioids lawsuit could be headed

Go deeper

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent. 

1 hour ago - Health
Axios Investigates

Documents reveal the secrecy of America's drug pricing matrix

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

American businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs, and the bills keep getting bigger. But some of the companies promising to help rein in those costs prevent employers from looking under the hood.

Why it matters: Documents provided to Axios reveal a new layer of secrecy within the maze of American drug pricing — one in which firms that manage drug coverage for hundreds of employers, representing millions of workers, obscure the details of their work and make it difficult to figure out whether they're actually providing a good deal.

Congress' chip-funding pause raises alarms

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, a plea by the Commerce Secretary and growing desperation from industry officials, Congress still can't get a key bill that funds the U.S. chip business over the finish line.

Why it matters: With the global chip shortage continuing to crimp the economy, the semiconductor industry has ramped up pressure for funding of U.S.-based manufacturing facilities as one remedy.