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Buffalo News staffers win top state publishing honor Cited for drug series; 5 other awards given

A Buffalo News investigative series on the epidemic of prescription drug abuse won top honors Wednesday night at the annual awards dinner of the New York State Publishers Association.

"Rx for Danger," a News series that ran last year, won the association's community service award. It was the eighth consecutive year that The News has won the award against competitors in the large-circulation category.

News staffers also won five other awards for sports writing, sports photography, news photography, page design and presentation, and headline writing. The awards dinner was held in Albany.

"Rx for Danger" was a four-day series that ran in March 2011. The series was based on hundreds of interviews and documents obtained through requests under the state Freedom of Information Law.

Reporters talked to medical experts, police, drug users and their families for a series of reports that revealed that Western New York has significantly more problems with prescription drug abuse than almost any other part of the state.

The series detailed how criminals got and sold their drugs, and focused on how some doctors and medical professionals broke the law to help them. The News found that two local doctors wrote more prescriptions for painkilling drugs than any other doctors in the state.

One chilling story revealed how three young people collapsed and died while chewing patches of a powerful painkiller known as fentanyl in a Niagara Falls home.

Written by reporters Susan Schulman, Henry L. Davis, Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, the series ignited efforts by both state and federal officials to strengthen laws governing such drugs.

Sports columnist Jerry Sullivan won the sports writing award for a Jan. 30, 2011 story entitled "It Ain't Hooking." Based on numerous interviews with former Buffalo Bills players and coaches, the story looked back on the Bills' heartbreaking first Super Bowl loss, 20 years after it happened.

The Buffalo team lost the game, 20-19, to the New York Giants, as Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a last-second field goal attempt from 47 yards.

"[Bills players] do not feel defined by that loss, but by their ability to come back from it," Sullivan wrote. "Looking back on it 20 years later, from a more mature and adult perspective, they feel a powerful sense of achievement, as well as a fondness for a remarkable group of competitors who made it to four straight Super Bowls."

Vince Chiaramonte, the News' design director, won the page design and presentation award for "Depth Perception," a March 15, 2011 story on the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Staff photographers Sharon Cantillon and Mark Mulville won top awards for their work. Cantillon's Dec. 30, 2010 photo of an exhausted firefighter at a Buffalo house fire, captioned "Feeling the Heat," won for best news photo. Mulville's May 5, 2011 photo of University at Buffalo shot-putter Rob Golabeck, captioned "Eyes on the Prize," was honored as the best sports photo.

Features editor Melinda Miller received a headline writing award for "The lion, the fish and the wardrobe," an April 22, 2011 story about clothing featuring offbeat animal designs.