Drug Firms Plan to Appeal

Times Staff Writer

A lawyer for two companies that allowed U.S. customers to purchase cheaper prescription medicines from Canada said Friday that the firms planned to appeal a federal judge's decision that shut them down.

The ruling was handed down Thursday by U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan and called for the immediate closing of the 88 nationwide affiliates of the Tulsa, Okla.-based Rx Depot and Rx of Canada. The affiliates included 17 California locations.

The storefronts accepted prescriptions that were then faxed to Canadian pharmacies, where the orders were filled and mailed to customers. Rx Depot President Carl Moore said about 3 million prescriptions had been filled this year.

Eagan ruled that the companies violated a federal law that allows only pharmaceutical manufacturers to import their medicines. She also cited safety concerns, saying that some of the drugs offered had not received federal Food and Drug Administration approval.

The future of the companies looks grim, said Fred Stoops, a lawyer for Rx Depot.

"It would take an absolute miracle to save Rx now," he said. "But in the large picture, the loser is the American people, because they are losing access to affordable, prescribed drugs."

Stoops said he would ask Eagan next week to delay implementing her ruling while an appeal was filed in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling harms Americans who look to Canada for affordable drugs, Stoops said. Drugs imported from Canada are safe and certainly not as dangerous as "a prescription that is not filled at all because the patient cannot afford it," Stoops said.

Price regulation by the Canadian government makes some prescription medicine up to 50% cheaper.

"This court is not unsympathetic to the predicament faced by individuals who cannot afford their prescription drugs at U.S. prices," the judge wrote. "However, the defendants are able to offer lower prices only because they facilitate illegal activity determined by Congress to harm the public interest."

U.S. prescription retailers applauded the decision.

"Importation of prescription drugs is illegal because it is unsafe," said Craig Fuller, president of the National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores. "[The ruling] affirms the FDA's rightful role in stopping prescription drug distribution schemes that endanger the safety of patients."

Rx executives, however, said the FDA was not protecting Americans from dangerous drugs so much as they were keeping U.S. retailers from losing business in the multibillion-dollar marketplace.

According to court papers, Rx affiliates received an average 9% commission on each sale of Canadian prescription drugs for a net annual average income of $141,570.

The FDA said in a statement that it would continue to protect Americans from unsafe medicines and it was up to Congress "to take effective action to provide access to safe and affordable drugs."

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