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Arlington shopkeeper is pharmacy sales agent

An Arlington shopkeeper with 10 years in the medical supply business has launched a sideline to supplement his sales of orthopedic shoes and electric wheelchairs: helping Boston-area seniors import drugs from Canada.

Robert Mulcahy has signed up as an affiliate of American Drug Club, a Canadian Internet pharmacy based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that relies on local sales agents to drum up business in exchange for a 10 percent commission.

The Food and Drug Administration says the operation violates federal law. Although the FDA won an injunction last month against another such chain, RxDepot, the agency has been unable to block all of the other "storefront" operations for Canadian pharmacies that have proliferated in the United States.

In Massachusetts, there are at least three sales agents for pharmacies outside the United States and the state's Board of Registration in Pharmacy says it lacks jurisdiction to shut them down.

"All they can do to me is say don't do this no more, take that sign out of your window," said Mulcahy, who is set to announce his new offerings today at his store, Commonwealth Medical Supply.

"I don't think it's illegal," he added. "It's freedom of trade. Tell me how it's illegal if I'm spending $800 or more on pharmaceuticals, and I can get them for $400 somewhere else."

David Schioler, American Drug Club president and CEO, said he is rapidly changing his business model based on the RxDepot ruling. More American Drug Club affiliates are working as roving agents, he said, appearing before groups of seniors and distributing fliers.

"We have seminars at senior residences, networking, Tupperware-type parties where you discuss and educate," he said. "Are you telling me that the FDA has a mandate to stop the education of American citizens? I would say no. The more you operate like that, the more that the law has to respect what you are doing."

The Food and Drug Administration has trumpeted its injunction against RxDepot, which was issued by a US district judge in Tulsa, Okla. But unless individual states take action against other similar operations, the agents will continue to operate without interference. Tom McGinnis, director of pharmacy affairs for the FDA, said the agency is waiting for the final ruling from Tulsa before it systematically targets sales agents for Canadian firms across the country.

"They'll all fall like dominoes after that," he said.

In the meantime, the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association has asked the state Board of Registration in Pharmacy to take action against operators like Mulcahy, to no avail, said Carmelo Cinqueonce, the association's executive director.

"They are opening up regularly -- we're seeing more and more of it," he said. Patients who use these unlicensed outlets, he said, "have no recourse" if things go wrong.

Jean Pontikas, director of the Division of Health Professions Licensure, said state law does not give it the power to close down these operations.

"It's FDA regulation that's being violated here. It's the reimportation provision -- we don't have that as a state requirement," she said.

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

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