CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pharmacies at Walmart, Rite Aid and CVS in West Virginia are selling the largest number of boxes of a cold medication that contains an ingredient that's also used by criminals to make illegal methamphetamine in clandestine labs, according to a new report.
Last month, the Southridge Walmart in South Charleston reported 1,851 transactions for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient. That was almost double the sales at Walmart's Summersville store, which reported 960 transactions, the second-highest number in the state.
Six of the 10 pharmacies in West Virginia with the most sales were Walmart stores. Three Rite Aids -- two in Charleston and another in Belle -- and one CVS also were among the state's top 10 for pseudoephedrine sales, according to data from an electronic tracking system called NPLEx.
"All of the top ones are the large chains," said Dr. Dan Foster, who heads a Kanawha County substance-abuse task force that's studying pseudoephedrine sales and their possible link to a sharp increase in meth labs.
This week, the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, which supports requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, released a list of the 30 stores in West Virginia that sold the most boxes of the nasal decongestant in August. Only Walmart, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies made the list.
No Target, Walgreen's or Kroger pharmacies finished among the top 30.
Bridget Lambert, executive director of the West Virginia Retailers Association, said it's not surprising that Walmart stores would top the list.
"Those are stores that draw the largest customer base," said Lambert, who sits on the task force. "The Southridge and Summersville Walmarts both draw customers from multiple counties. These figures are exactly what you'd expect."
Lambert added that Rite Aid and CVS stores also sell large numbers of pseudoephedrine products -- known under brand names such as Sudafed, Allegra D and Claritin-D -- because people typically go to neighborhood pharmacies when they have colds and allergy symptoms.
"They go to stores in their local communities," she said.
The report shows that sales can vary significantly, even within the same neighborhood.
For instance, the Kanawha City Rite Aid store reported 926 pseudoephedrine transactions -- the third-highest number in West Virginia. A Kanawha City CVS pharmacy just four blocks east reported 303 transactions in August.
Rite Aid spokeswoman Ashley Flower said Wednesday that the company uses the NPLEx tracking system to monitor and record sales of all products that contain pseudoephedrine.
"Rite Aid takes seriously its responsibilities with regard to the sale of products, including those products with pseudoephedrine," Flower said. "The company has designed and implemented systems to comply with federal and state law regarding sales of PSE and has a training program in place for associates to complete regarding the sale of these products."
Foster and West Virginia law enforcement officials say there's a link between pseudoephedrine sales and meth labs.