[JURIST] The first trial against pharmaceutical drug company Merck & Co. [corporate website] for distributing the drug Vioxx [JURIST news archive] while aware of an increased chance of heart attack and stroke began Thursday in Texas with opening statements from both sides. The state trial, the first of some 3,800 lawsuits to go to court, involves widow Carol Ernst, who claims that her husband died of arrythmia after taking VIOXX for arthritis in his hands. Lawyers for Ernst claimed that Merck downplayed studies showing the side effects of VIOXX until they were forced to take the drug off the market [FDA Senate testimony] after a 2002 FDA study that showed it doubled a user's risk of heart attack or stroke [FDA public health advisory]. Merck's lawyers claimed that there is no proven link between VIOXX and arrythmia. AP has more.