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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Clearly, Pfizer has stated that, in very nasty words to the court and others, this is some kind of self-gratifying ego trip. You know, it’s fun to be in the newspapers the first month, it’s kind of nice the first year. But eventually, it’s not that big a deal. It definitely helps sell the book, because I can’t afford to pay for an ad. And clearly, I have had it in the back of my mind, knowing the book would come out, that it’s important to build a brand. But that wasn’t part of anything at all in the beginning, which was way before the book was developed. When you look back, it may look logical, but sometimes coincidence looks logical as well.

E.S.: When you’re not busy blogging or litigating, what do you do?

P.R.: It turns out that most of the time, I am working, at least if you ask my wife. Otherwise, I play with my kids. They know if the sun is going down, they’re allowed to play with daddy.

E.S.: You live in an area where there are a lot of people who work for pharma or do business with pharma. Does it make you uncomfortable, given your high profile and criticism, to walk through town or see people you used to know? Now you’re portrayed as an outsider and a sniper.

P.R.: This was never, ever a role I’d dreamt of in my career. If I could have seen me five years ago, I would have been pretty shocked. At the same time, this is also about winning and proving you’re right about certain things, even if it comes at a high price. Winning depends on how you define it, too. If nothing else, winning public opinion.

There’s been so much going on. Pfizer has said so many negative things, and outright lied to the press, in a very sophisticated manner, through court papers, that I don’t really have that much to lose. I can be very straightforward. I can say exactly what’s on my mind, because I’ve been pretty beaten up in the process. So it makes it quite easy. Also, I have a pretty thick skin.

Of course, you do learn who your friends are. But if you been around awhile in life, that shouldn’t be surprising either. You’ve been in business for 20 years, you know how people operate and how very little sincerity there is anywhere. It’s all about me, me, me, and what kind of advantage I can have in a situation. People want to know what kind of advantage they have and once that’s over, they don’t care about anything else. There are surprises. But I think I’m pretty realistic about the whole situation.

E.S.: And when Pfizer says you’re on an ego trip, what do you say to that?

P.R.: Well, you know, as far as it goes for being active with the press this year, for instance, I had a big hurdle to overcome, because when Pfizer fired me, they had planned this for a very long time, and literally, dozens of lawyers and PR people were involved. We know they tried to put out certain things that were complete lies that played well in the press and that I blackmailed them, which was completely untrue.

So it took me six months of work to get out the real story. That’s why I worked with various newspapers this year to get out the full story and showed some of the documents. To set things straight. It was a long process to do that. I would’ve like to have waited til the book was out, because it was important to get the story out. At this point, publicity is important because that sells the book, and that’s the only way to support myself. And if you worked for a long time on something, you want people to read it. So it is important. It’s not something you get a kick out of doing, it’s part of the process.

E.S.: If you had the chance to do something over, what would it be and what would you do differently?

P.R.: I’ve thought that thought so many times. I would’ve gone straight to the police, the Justice Department. I would not have gone to the corporation. My experience has been, the company doesn’t appreciate you coming to them. My advice to anybody thinking about something like this — don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut.

If you’re in a situation where you have to do it, where I felt I was, then go to the authorities. Don’t take your chances with the company. If I could just go back, I would have either gone straight to the authorities or gone to the company much earlier.

If I had to give advice, I’d say just avoid the situation. That’s the feeling I had when I joined Pharmacia. People thought, “Here we have a serial whistleblower and he’s doing it again and so clearly there’s something wrong with this guy, because it keeps happening.” And the truth is the opposite was going on.

When I went to Pharmacia, I wanted to stay as far away as I could from anything that smelled funny. It’s a no-win situation. I knew that. I had that experience. I’m a vice president for a franchise where there may have been off-label distribution, which is a felony. All of a sudden, my hand was forced.

It took me a year and a half before I approached the authorities. I tried to work with the company, both Pharmacia and Pfizer. I didn’t go to the authorities until I was forced and threatened to fire me and became very hostile. Of course, we all know that everything I asked for, well, Pfizer has now changed. I asked them to stop things Pharmacia had continued to do. So I feel I was right. In the end, they did what I wanted them to do. But of course, they didn’t want me anymore. It didn’t matter that I had good results.

E.S.: Hasn’t Pfizer argued that the government declined to join the case and so in the end, maybe you weren’t right.

P.R.: They’re trying to have it both ways. First, they go ahead and write these letters to the FDA and the Justice Department saying there’s a big problem. Then they try to say the government doesn’t want to intervene, so there’s no problem. There’s an ongoing grand-jury investigation, criminal investigation and if there was no problem, this wouldn’t happen.

Normally, when the feds call a grand jury in 98 percent of the cases, they indict somebody, because they don’t waste all that time for a year or a year and a half. So we are very far from the end of the story. Pfizer is trying to spin things different ways.

The Justice Department is completely overworked — they only take 10 to 20 percent of the cases that are filed under qui tam False Claims Act in Boston, because they have so many cases.

They know the government has put it in rules to make it more favorable for a private attorney to pursue a case. Marketing 101 is blame the whistleblower. Number two is make him out to be crazy. And it just goes to show it’s a dishonest corporation. If it wasn’t, they would’ve had to sign two corporate integrity agreements.

E.S.: But they haven’t signed one involving your charges.

P.R.: Not yet. These investigations take several years.

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