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CVS Fined $75 Million for Making Itself One-Stop Shop for Meth Makers

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If you’ve been to a CVS Pharmacy to buy the cold medicine Sudafed in the past few years, you know the drill. The stuff on the shelves is fake Sudafed, made with phenylephrine, an active ingredient that doesn’t actually do anything for your stuffy nose.

The real stuff is made with pseudoephedrine, an awesome decongestant that’s also a key ingredient for cooking nasty, illegal methamphetamine. It’s locked up behind the counter, and to buy it you must show your ID, sign a log, and be entered in a computer system to make sure you’re not buying suspicious amounts of the drug.

Fair trade-off, right? You get your effective decongestant with minimal hassle, and CVS gets to avoid contributing to a drug problem that’s ravaging rural communities across the country.

Only it turns out the whole “Meth Tracker” system CVS set up was pointless, because it failed to flag people who were making multiple pseudoephedrine purchases on the same day.

When “smurfers” -- street lingo for those who buy the cold medicine to resell it to meth manufacturers -- got hip to CVS’s shoddy oversight, the pharmacy chain became the go-to supplier for meth makers in southern California and Nevada, federal officials say.

Now CVS has to pay $75 million in fines -- a record for a civil violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act -- and forfeit another $2.6 million in profits.

Parent company CVS Caremark says the problem with Meth Tracker is now fixed, and the company will roll out a “compliance and ethics” program over the next three years. Take that, smurfers.
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