Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s aggressive efforts to protect Washingtonians from the insidious addiction caused by opioids should be applauded.

The opioid epidemic, which is as devastating to rural communities as it is big cities, simply can’t be tolerated.

Ferguson is focusing efforts at the source of the addiction — the drugs themselves.

Ferguson’s office last week announced a lawsuit against three opioid distributors the attorney general said ignored their responsibility to suspend and report suspicious orders from Washington pharmacies.

The lawsuit is against McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug, which are  largest opioid distributors in the state. Earlier, Ferguson’s office filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma. Fergusin said the opioid epidemic is linked to the deaths of 8,000 state residents.

“We’ve seen the data and it is shocking,” Ferguson said when announcing the latest lawsuit.

We agree. And that’s why we have continued to push for state and local officials to take legal action to curb the abuses of this highly addictive drug.

Last year the Walla Walla County commissioners took action to preparing to join national litigation to sue the makers, as well as wholesalers, of the painkillers for damages.

The opioid crisis must be stopped.

The Walla Walla County Coroner’s Office reported in 2016 and 2017 that  21 residents died of opioid overdoses. Forthy-five of of the 65 overdose deaths in the county between 2011 and 2017 involved opioids, including prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl.

Ferguson’s 58-page complaint released last week says the state had access to data showing the three companies, combined, shipped at least 269,000 suspicious orders into Washington between 2006 and 2014. Orders are deemed suspicious when, for example, a pharmacy orders several times the amount it previously ordered.

Distributors are legally obliged to stop such shipments, and report the orders to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. By not doing so, Ferguson’s lawsuit contends, the companies violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and engaged in negligence.

The distributors sent so many opioids into the state that, at various times, prescriptions in 16 of the state’s 39 counties outnumbered the population.

In Asotin County, for example, roughly 147 prescriptions were ordered for every 100 people. Columbia County and Benton County, too, had more prescriptions than people.

Ferguson’s aggressive approach seems to be the right prescription for this pernicious and deadly problem.

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart

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