Two Seattle Times reporters have won one of the most prestigious awards in investigative journalism.

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Two Seattle Times reporters have won one of the most prestigious awards in investigative journalism for their work in uncovering the state of Washington’s financially motivated sanction of methadone, an inexpensive painkiller that can lead to what doctors call the silent death.

Seattle Times reporters Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong were awarded the $35,000 2012 Selden Ring Award for their three-part series, “Methadone and the Politics of Pain.”

The decision was announced Monday by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which has presented the award for 23 years.

The award honors groundbreaking investigative reporting leading to direct results.

Between 2003 and 2011, at least 2,173 people died in Washington state after accidentally overdosing on methadone, which for eight years was one of the state’s two preferred painkillers for Medicaid patients and recipients of workers’ compensation. Washington health officials disregarded repeated warnings about methadone’s risks while saying it was just as safe as any other painkiller.

The poor have been hit the hardest. While Medicaid recipients make up about 8 percent of Washington’s adult population, they account for 48 percent of the methadone deaths, the investigation found.

A news release called the impact of the series “immediate and dramatic.”

Within days of the series’ publication, the state issued an emergency public-health advisory warning physicians, pharmacists and drugstores about the unique risks of methadone, an unpredictable drug that costs less than a dollar a dose. Physicians in continuing-education courses are now being advised to use methadone as a drug of last resort.

“It’s deeply satisfying that a family-owned metro, The Seattle Times, has won this recognition for their fine work on a little-understood public-policy issue,” said Geneva Overholser, the journalism school’s director, in a news release announcing the award.