The Health 202: A landmark opioids trial starts in Ohio today. Drug companies hope doctors get blamed

The Oriana House, an agency providing chemical dependency treatment and community corrections services in Akron, Ohio. (Justin Merriman for The Washington Post)

For two Ohio counties, the devil is in the details in a high-stakes, bellwether trial starting today that will decide to what extent opioid distributors can be held responsible for the country’s drug abuse crisis.

Arguments begin this morning before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster and a 12-person jury in the first federal trial of the U.S. opioid epidemic, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives and left millions of people addicted. There was an 11th-hour effort to reach an agreement, but those talks stalled over the weekend.

The cases from around 2,400 counties, cities and states suing painkiller manufacturers, wholesalers and dispensers have been consolidated into an enormous “multidistrict litigation” before Polster. The judge has chosen two Ohio counties as “bellwether” plaintiffs to test how other lawsuits might go and to encourage settlements instead of more trials.

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