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Meth-ingredient sales plunge at Southridge Walmart

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Southridge Walmart is no longer West Virginia's top seller of cold medicines that criminals use to manufacture highly-addictive methamphetamine in clandestine labs.

In August, the Walmart in South Charleston reported 1,851 sales transactions for cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient. That was almost double the sales of any store in the state.

The Southridge store's sales dropped to 624 boxes in September, and 212 boxes in October -- an 88 percent decrease over two months, according to data from an electronic tracking system called NPLEx.

Walmart's South Charleston location now ranks No. 61 in West Virginia for pseudoephedrine sales.

"I'm absolutely pleased," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who set up a task force that's looking into the county's meth lab problem. "And I haven't seen any people having sneezing and coughing fits and falling over up at Southridge."

After the first week of September, the Southridge Walmart stopped selling Sudafed 12 Hour, a highly sought-after meth-making medication that has pseudoephedrine as its only active ingredient, according to the NPLEx data. Meth cooks demand single-ingredient pseudoephedrine because it yields potent meth without byproducts.

The South Charleston Walmart still sells cold medicines, such as Claritin-D, Advil Cold and Sinus, and Allegra-D, which combine pseudoephedrine with other ingredients. Meth makers don't typically buy the combination products because they include pain relievers and antihistamines.

On Tuesday, Danit Marquardt, a Walmart corporate spokeswoman, denied that the South Charleston store changed its pseudoephedrine inventory.

"There have been no changes to our assortment," Marquardt said.

The Charleston Gazette spoke to two pharmacy technicians at the Southridge Walmart this week. Both pharmacy employees said the store stopped selling Sudafed -- the most sought-after meth-making medicine -- in September. 

The Walmart in South Charleston now only sells one single-ingredient pseudoephedrine product, Nexafed, a tamper-resistant medication, they said. Meth cooks cannot make the illegal drug with Nexafed.

In August, the South Charleston store sold hundreds of boxes of Sudafed 12 Hour, according to NPLEx data. The Walmart's Sudafed sales made up more than half of all pseudoephedrine purchases that month.

Since Sept. 8, customers have purchased three boxes of Sudafed at the South Charleston Walmart, the sales data shows.

Last summer, the Gazette reported that the Southridge store's sales of pseudoephedrine nearly tripled -- from 637 to 1,851 sales transactions -- between January and August. During the same eight months, total pseudoephedrine sales at all Kanawha County pharmacies dropped 18 percent.

The South Charleston Walmart sold 10 times more pseudoephedrine than its stores in Nitro and Quincy, according to NPLEx sales data.

Carper said negative reports about Southridge Walmart's escalating pseudoephedrine sales -- and the task force's ongoing work -- prompted that sharp decline in transactions.

"It's hard to believe, but shame works," Carper said. "We're exposing their dirty secrets. They're concerned about their liability in all this, and they ought to be."

Marquardt, who works out of Walmart's corporate headquarters in Arkansas, said the company has taken steps to prevent pseudoephedrine from being diverted for illegal use.

"We are committed to quality patient care and social responsibility," she said. "We work with government officials, law enforcement and others to serve patients who benefit from these products while protecting against their potential misuse."

Last week, Rite Aid stores stopped selling a handful of products, including Sudafed 12 Hour and Sudafed 24 Hour, which solely contain pseudoephedrine.

Rite Aid, which has more than 100 stores in West Virginia, continues to sell medications that combine the meth-making drug with other ingredients.

The company's decision to drop Sudafed follows a Charleston Gazette report that named Rite Aid and Walmart stores in West Virginia as the top sellers of medicines that contain pseudoephedrine.

Pharmacies keep medications containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter. Customers must show a photo ID and sign a store log to purchase the products.

West Virginia law enforcement agencies have seized more than 370 meth labs this year, a record number. About a third of the labs were discovered in Kanawha County. Police blame widespread sales of pseudoephedrine for the meth lab increase.

Perdue and Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, have announced plans to introduce legislation in January that would require West Virginians to secure a doctor's prescription before they could buy pseudoephedrine.

Only two states -- Oregon and Mississippi -- have such a law. Meth lab seizures have declined significantly in both states. Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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