Transcript: Peter Rost Talks Turkey with Ed Silverman

This article contains the full transcription of Ed Silverman's interview with Peter Rost (the briefer, edited interview is available for download as a Windows Media video).

By Ed Silverman and Agnes Shanley

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P.R.: Very often, one thing leads to the next. I’d hoped to avoid this situation, but couldn’t, in the end, because of Pfizer’s actions. I was trying to work with the company for over a year. Some things they took care of. Some things they didn’t.

After I outlined the situation in writing, they responded by writing that they would fire me. This is such a basic thing — how you don’t interact with someone who brings forward troubling information. Then things got quiet and they kept me on. I didn’t know what would happen. But the meetings with Pfizer’s lawyers became very hostile.

So in the beginning of 2003, I contacted Pfizer in writing to make sure they understood what the concerns were here. They responded that they’ll fire me. It was a bit of a strange response. Also they didn’t tell anyone else at that point that they’d fire them. They waited until the actual acquisition (of Pharmacia) took place. And that’s when I got my first indication that people were not too happy about what I discussed with them and they took a very hostile approach.

E.S.: By mid-2003, Pfizer’s acquistion of Pharmacia was complete. You remained with the company, but isolated in your office in the New Jersey suburbs. Other Pharmacia employees were leaving — laid off, taking other positions. You got push back. You pursued the qui tam whistleblower litigation. You wrote in your book that you were isolated in your office. You weren’t sure who to report to.

Meanwhile, you pursued your stance with the price of prescription drugs and went public and got a national profile. This takes us into 2004 and 2005. At this point, though, I’m wondering why did you remain with the company? You don’t have any responsibilities. You don’t know who to talk to, you’re sitting by yourself, you’re isolated. People are taking off. You have no interaction with anyone inside the company. Why stay? Why didn’t you move on?

P.R.: I would’ve loved to have moved on. Like everybody else, I was doing lots of interviewing. We didn’t know what would happen when Pfizer took over (Pharmacia). None of us really knew what would happen. I had a great CV — and my results were, literally, among the best within all of Pfizer when they took over. If you looked at my actual sales versus forecast, versus budget. But my interviewing came to a very sudden halt. Suddenly, interviews were canceled. Things grew very, very quiet in 2003. And that’s around the same time as the newspapers started to write about the Wyeth situation, my prior employer, where I’d filed a lawsuit and the case had been dismissed to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Once the papers started writing about that, interviews stopped abruptly.

E.S.: So you’re saying the reason you stayed hidden away in the suburbs, working for Pfizer, was you didn’t feel you’d have an opportunity to get another job because of what you spoke about publicly about pricing and your reputation in the industry?

P.R.: It wasn’t like I didn’t feel I could get another job. I worked very hard at continuing the interview process. But once it became known about the Wyeth situation in 2003, basically, all interviews shut down. Completely. I continued to try to look for another job — no one wants to sit in an office with nothing to do. But things got very, very quiet.

E.S.: So that brings us to late 2005, when your employment with Pfizer ended. For the past year and a half, you’ve been busy with other things. You continued the litigation, but you also got a high profile blogging. Why did you do that? And not do something else in health? You have an MD degree. You could’ve pursued something else, perhaps in public health. Why did you pursue blogging?

P.R.: It was almost for fun, something to try out. I have an MD degree, but I haven’t worked as a physician for almost 20 years. It would’ve been very hard to go back into medicine. In addition, my degree was from overseas. I would’ve had to take tests all over again. It simply wouldn’t work for me to go back to work as a doctor. And the companies haven’t been very interested . . . So far, nothing has materialized. I’m looking in a very broad area. I’ve had some discussions, but nothing has come through. And I’ve come to realize people are probably nervous about someone who stands up and speaks about what’s going on. So the only remaining avenue I saw was, actually, if I could support myself in a more independent manner. For instance, writing. It’s not a situation where somebody has to hire you, especially the drug companies seem very afraid to do, despite my performance.

E.S.: Can you mention which agencies or non-profits you’ve talked to?

P.R.: I’ve had some discussions with Canadian pharmacies, but nothing ever moved forward. I’ve had interactions with non-profits, when I’ve been invited to speak. But nothing has been forthcoming.

You have to realize that all of the money, and most of the employment, is in the private sector. You have a lot of people who do volunteer work in non-profits with little or no pay, with no funding. The drug companies have all the money and control. With all the opposition you see in the debate about what’s going on, well, you’d think there’s another sector out there. But it turns out, most of those people do it for free or do it with extremely little money. It doesn’t offer regular employment. I’d expected, when I first started looking, that there’d be more but so far, I haven’t found anything. And I have legal obligations and personal obligations, taking care of my family. That’s why I started to write and build something new. Basically, I was forced into it.

E.S.: How do you support yourself?

P.R.: Right now, I hope, a little bit of money will come in from the book. I’ve also just started working with a law firm as a consultant on pharmaceutical matters. And that may also have potential for the future. I don’t know how it’ll work out.

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