In order to comply with federal drug regulations, CVS Pharmacy Inc. employed a new automated system three years ago to keep tabs on the sale of one of methamphetamine’s main ingredients, pseudoephedrine, that is often found in cough and cold remedies.
The program known as “Meth Tracker” had one glaring flaw — it didn’t account for people scooping as much medicine as they wanted in a given day, court documents show.
Although some store employees in Southern California and Nevada questioned if large amounts of pseudoephedrine flying off the shelves were being used for making meth, CVS management didn’t investigate immediately and later changed its sales practices only after it became aware of a federal investigation, according to the documents.
On Thursday, the nation’s largest operator of retail pharmacies announced it had agreed to pay $75 million in fines for allowing repeated purchases of pseudoephedrine that led to a spike in Southern California drug trafficking.
CVS will pay what federal prosecutors said was the largest civil penalty ever assessed under the Controlled Substances Act as well as forfeit about $2.6 million in profits earned from the sales of pseudoephedrine.
Authorities said CVS didn’t provide enough safeguards to monitor how much pseudoephedrine a customer was buying, and the company violated the regulations in Arizona, Georgia, California, Nevada, South Carolina and possibly 20 other states.
“CVS knew it had a duty to prevent methamphetamine trafficking,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. “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.”
The company was expected to pay the $75 million fine by Friday. The remaining forfeiture is due within 30 days.
Thomas Ryan, chairman and CEO of parent company CVS Caremark, said the company unacceptably breached its policies and has worked to fix the problem.
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