Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Toby Talbot / AP

Cities, counties and states continue to sue opioid manufacturers, drug distributors and pharmacy chains, alleging those companies fueled the nation's opioid crisis through deceptive marketing and negligence. The metro area of Louisville, Kentucky was the latest to file a lawsuit this week, targeting the big three distributors: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Why it matters: It's not at all clear municipalities will win, but the lawsuits represent something larger — policymakers want more scrutiny and oversight for companies that make and deliver painkillers instead of heaping blame on people who suffer from addiction.

Background: More Americans are struggling with, and dying from, opioids. The common prescription opioid pills are hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl (with brand names like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and Subsys). People often graduate to heroin.

Louisville's lawsuit lays out some startling statistics:

  • "In Kentucky, more people died from an opioid drug overdose from 2012 to 2016 than from motor vehicle accidents."
  • "From 2012 through the middle of 2017, more than 197 million doses of prescription opioids...were dispensed in Jefferson County, Kentucky, which has a population of approximately 760,000 people. That is more than 258 doses of prescription opioids for every man, woman and child."

Cities, counties and states started suing opioid manufacturers in 2014, but the lawsuits have multiplied and expanded this year following a Los Angeles Times investigation of OxyContin, which is made by Purdue Pharma. The plaintiffs are relying on a few legal theories:

  1. Negligence: Companies were careless about the selling, marketing and distributing opioids.
  2. Public nuisance: Companies endangered communities by oversupplying opioids, similar to charges of pollution.
  3. Fraud or deceptive trade practices: Companies knew the risks and harms of opioids, but sold and delivered them anyway, and encouraged overprescription.

The defendants: Drug distributors and drug makers have said they intend to "vigorously" defend themselves against the "copycat" lawsuits which they claim don't address the opioid problem. But there's some acknowledgement they could lose. Insys Therapeutics, which makes Subsys, recently paid a small settlement in Illinois and has written in federal filings that it believes "a loss from an unfavorable outcome of these governmental proceedings is reasonably possible."

Looking ahead: Legal experts are unsure how the cases could pan out. Similar lawsuits with public health angles have been filed against the tobacco and gun manufacturing industries with varying results. Here are portions of what three law professors said:

  • Richard Ausness of Kentucky University: Ausness believes it's logistically difficult to settle with "hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs." But the case against distributors may be stronger because those companies are required to monitor the flow of potent drugs like opioids. "It's pretty hard for the distributors to say we didn't know that's what was happening."
  • Tim Lytton of Georgia State University: Lytton said it's a mistake to focus only on a trial outcome or settlement payout, because the process of filing a lawsuit is significant. Even if the cases hit a dead end — which is possible — cities, counties and states ravaged by opioid abuse have shifted attention away from doctors, street sales and people with addiction and toward the industry that sits atop the food chain. "Lawsuits, unlike many other forms of activism, get media attention. The lawsuit frames the issue of manufacturers' and distributors' responsibility."
  • John Jacobi of Seton Hall University: The case is complicated "as all good legal issues are," but we also shouldn't overlook the fact "that some people really need opioids for pain relief."

Go deeper

Mark Meadows will stop cooperating with Jan. 6 panel, attorney says

Photo: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will no longer cooperate with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, his attorney told Fox News Tuesday.

Why it matters: Meadows, who failed to appear before the panel last month, is believed to have insight into former President Trump's role in efforts to stop the certification of President Biden's election win.

Updated 3 hours ago - Economy & Business

The billionaire balloon

Data: World Inequality Report 2022; Chart: Axios Visuals

The super-rich are getting stupid rich: New data out today shows the share of global wealth held by the richest slice of humanity swelled by almost a full percentage point during the pandemic.

Driving the news: The top 0.01% of individuals now hold about 11% of the world's wealth, compared to just over 10% in 2020, according to the "World Inequality Report 2022," written by Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
3 hours ago - Health

Omicron gives a shot to boosters

Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Vaccination rates have ticked higher since the discovery of the Omicron variant, CDC data shows.

By the numbers: The seven-day average for vaccinations in the U.S. reached about 1.8 million on Monday, up from an average of about 1.3 million a month ago.