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Originally published October 16 2010

CVS pleads guilty to selling methamphetamine ingredient to criminals

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Popular over-the-counter cough and cold medicines like Sudafed and Suphedrin are a key ingredient used in the production of illegal methamphetamines. These pseudoephedrine drugs can be converted by criminals into meth, and CVS Caremark Corp, a popular U.S. drug retail chain, recently pleaded guilty to selling the nasal decongestants to criminals who were using them for illegal purposes.

According to reports, criminals "smurf" the drugs from drug stores -- meaning they make a series of small purchases of the drugs to bypass purchasing limits. But prosecutors in the recent case against CVS say the system the drug chain had in place to prevent "smurfing" failed to effectively stop criminals, which contributed to a smurfing epidemic that swept California and Nevada in 2007 and 2008.

CVS said when it became aware of the breach, it immediately altered its prevention system to address the failure. But apparently that endeavor was unsuccessful. So the company agreed to pay a $75 million civil penalty, as well as forfeit $2.6 million in profits it made from the illegal sales. According to the Los Angeles Times, the penalty is the largest ever for a civil violation of the Controlled Substances Act, a law primarily designed to address street drug dealers.

In accordance with the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, drug retailers are required to store pseudoephedrines behind the counter, check purchasers' identifications, and limit sales to only one package a day, with a maximum of three purchases in a month. But government statements indicate that CVS was in "flagrant violation" of the Act, which made the company a "direct link in the methamphetamine supply chain."

CVS responded by saying the illegal sales were "an unacceptable breach of the company's policies and [were] totally inconsistent with [the company's] values." But U.S. Attorney Andrew Birotte Jr. said that "CVS knew it had a duty to prevent methamphetamine trafficking, but it failed to take steps to control the sale of a regulated drug used by methamphetamine cooks as an essential ingredient for their poisonous stew."

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