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CVS Halts Sales of Certain Cold Medicines in West Virginia Stores

CVS Caremark Corp. has halted sales of certain cold medicines in West Virginia as part of an effort to fight methamphetamine abuse in the state, where meth labs have proliferated.

The company will no longer sell single-ingredient pseudoephedrine, often sold under the Sudafed brand name. The step follows similar ones by Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreen Co. in the state, said a spokesman for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has lobbied companies to stop selling the products.

The illicit production and use of meth, a highly addictive stimulant, have been on the rise nationally: The number of meth-lab seizures more than doubled between 2007 and 2010, according to federal data.

The increase partly stems from more people using a cheap, small-batch method of making the drug, in which the pseudoephedrine in over-the-counter cold medicines is mixed with common household items in two-liter bottles.

Last year, law-enforcement officials seized a record 530 meth labs in West Virginia, said Mike Goff, who administers a program that monitors the sale of controlled substances for the state Board of Pharmacy. This year, 207 labs have been seized in the state, which has a population of 1.9 million.

"We took this step as part of our longstanding commitment to assuring that PSE products are purchased at our stores only for legitimate medical purposes," a CVS spokesman said.

A Rite Aid representative said the retailer in November switched to offering a formulation of the medicine in West Virginia that is resistant to methods used by meth labs, and last month lowered purchase limits for the drugs—moves similar to CVS’s. A spokesman said Walgreen had agreed to adopt "best practices" in the state and was still working through details.

A spokeswoman for the Johnson & Johnson unit that makes Sudafed said it is working to find ways to help control the sale of the drug for illicit purposes while making sure consumers have access to it.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents makers of pseudoephedrine products, said it supports other measures that don’t limit the availability of medicines to law-abiding citizens. In West Virginia, this would include a meth-offender registry "to help block the sale of products containing PSE to known meth criminals," said Emily Skor, a spokeswoman for the group.

In addition to stopping sales of the product in its 50 stores in West Virginia, CVS also will drop it from 40 stores located within 15 miles of the state border, in Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It is the first time the company has made such a move.

CVS will continue to sell in the 90 stores a formulation of the medicine that is resistant to methods used by meth labs. Earlier this year, the company cut the amount of pseudoephedrine products that can be purchased by an individual in a year to half of the limit permitted under West Virginia law.