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Drug order firm gets warning

Company run by Joe-Max Moore, father is targeted

The government took another shot yesterday in its bid to curb the import of Canadian pharmaceuticals, this time aiming at Joe-Max Moore, the all-time scoring leader for the New England Revolution.

The soccer player, 32, who lives in Braintree during the season and in Florida in the winter, and his father, Carl Moore, of Tulsa, Okla., are the principals of a year-old company called RxDepot Inc., a business they say runs 85 "storefronts" coast-to-coast where Americans can order low-cost prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

The US Department of Justice yesterday, acting on a request from the Food and Drug Administration, sent a written warning to the Moores that it will seek a civil injunction tomorrow against RxDepot and an affiliated company, Rx of Canada LLC, unless they shut down voluntarily. It is the first move by the Justice Department to shut down one of the so-called storefront operations, which have proliferated in response to heavy demand for cheaper prescription medicine.

In interviews yesterday, Joe-Max and Carl Moore expressed defiance in the face of the looming government action, saying they have no intention of shutting down their year-old business. They said they plan to spend heavily in court if need be to defend their rapidly growing chain.

"I had no idea they would conceive of this being an illegal activity in any way," said Joe-Max, who got interested in Canadian imports after doing Internet searches for low-cost drugs for his mother when she had breast cancer.

His father, who has been running day-to-day operations recently while Joe-Max soldiers on in a difficult Revolution season (the team is 6-9-8), said he believes RxDepot will be vindicated. "We're not going to be bowled over by a bunch of muckety-mucks at the FDA," Carl Moore said. "We don't fill one order. We simply tell people what the prices are -- what we do is provide free speech. You could do this at the public library."

The Moores were among the first people to start organizing Canadian imports into local businesses in the last year, and they have been on the FDA's target list for months. Importing drugs from outside the United States is illegal, but the FDA has chosen not to enforce the prohibition for individual orders. It has attempted to pressure commercial businesses tapping into the phenomenon, however. Yesterday's Justice Department letter follows a written warning the FDA sent to RxDepot in March, a document that has been seen as framing the agency's legal arguments for government efforts to put all storefronts out of business. State pharmacy regulators in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Montana also have targeted RxDepot stores for closure.

This is a different sort of revolution entirely for a talented athlete from Southern California whose previous press clippings focused on his exploits in front of the goal. Moore was a two-time All American striker at UCLA and made the US national team in 1992. He was the Revolution's star forward in the late 1990s, after which he departed for a three-year stint in England, returning to the team this year. The Revolution yesterday said it had no comment on the pending Justice Department action. "It's a personal and private matter," said team spokesman Brad Feldman. "We support our player."

The Moores say they want to help people get cheap drugs -- but they have acknowledged it is good business. Storefront operations do not actually handle drugs, only paperwork, receiving a cut of the gross from Canadian pharmacies that ship the medicine south. The Moores have no storefronts operating in Massachusetts yet, although they are planning locations in Springfield and Boston. One storefront in Cambridge, operated by American Drug Club, is a sideline business for a medical aids distributor.

In the Moores' case, Carl Moore said yesterday, RxDepot gets 10 percent of all orders placed with the company's roster of Canadian pharmacies. He estimated revenues at $20,000 a day, on gross daily sales of $200,000 spread across all 85 US storefronts.

In ratcheting up the pressure yesterday with the Justice Department's warning, the FDA said it had recently conducted an undercover sting targeting RxDepot, similar to one it launched against the City of Springfield's supplier of Canadian drugs last month. In the Springfield case, the FDA received a room-temperature batch of insulin, which it said raised a safety concern because warm temperatures can degrade insulin's effectiveness.

In the operation against RxDepot, an undercover FDA agent submitted a prescription through RxDepot for 60 pills of Serzone, an antidepressant manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. What the agent actually received from a Canadian pharmacy was something different: 99 pills of a Canadian-approved brand equivalent of Serzone called Apo-Nefazadone. The equivalent has not been approved in the United States, and it did not carry the FDA label, which contains warnings about the potential for liver damage from prolonged use the drug, said FDA associate director William Hubbard.

"It's not even Serzone. It's a knockoff of Serzone," said Hubbard. "I don't think this is going to happen to you at your local CVS."

Carl Moore said he believes the FDA carefully selected Serzone for its undercover order, suspecting it would receive the Canadian-approved equivalent. Moore said the drug is identical. "All they've done is find one drug out of 2,200 that has a gray area and they can use to their advantage," he said. As for the number of pills in the jar, Moore said the patient ordering the medicine bears some responsibility to follow doctor's directions and should not take 99 pills if the doctor prescribes 60.

Christopher Rowland can be reached at crowland@globe.com.

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