A drug company executive who spoke out in support of Montgomery County's proposal to import drugs from Canada and similar legislation before Congress said yesterday that his company has launched an investigation into his political activities.
Peter Rost, vice president of marketing for Pfizer Inc., said the company has hired a New York law firm to find out what elected officials and media organizations he has spoken with in the past month. Rost, who disagrees with Pfizer's position that Canadian drugs are potentially harmful, said lawyers grilled him for several hours Wednesday.
"I was peppered with questions from morning to evening," said Rost, who joined Pfizer in 2001. "As a private citizen in a protected political activity, my concern was getting all these questions about my discussions with elected representatives."
Seven members of Congress wrote a letter to the company yesterday condemning the inquiry. "If this is true, [Wednesday's] interrogation, during which attorneys demanded details of private conversations with Members of Congress and their staffs, was clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Rost," said the letter, whose signers included Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.).
Jack Cox, a spokesman for Pfizer, confirmed that a meeting took place Wednesday between an attorney for Pfizer and Rost and his legal counsel. "The meeting was professional and entirely consistent with Pfizer's policy regarding respect for employees," Cox said.
At a news conference last month, Rost became one of the first drug industry executives to come out in support of reimporting drugs from Canada. Ten days ago, the County Council voted to let county employees buy such drugs, many of which are produced in this country but are available at lower prices in Canada because of government regulation.
Rost, who stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen, has said that he is tired of hearing colleagues call the practice a public health risk. He said that as director of European commercial operations for another drug company in the mid-1990s, he saw cross-border trade reduce prescription drug costs.
Pfizer says there is no savings to European consumers.
Rost joined about 10 members of Congress on Capitol Hill on Sept. 23 for a rally in support of importing Canadian drugs. The next day, he attended a rally with Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) to encourage the Senate's Republican leadership to allow a vote on drug reimportation. Nearly a dozen newspapers have reported Rost's stance, and several television news shows have interviewed him in the past two weeks.
On Wednesday, Rost said, lawyers from the firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP asked him to detail all of his contacts with the media and reviewed his quotes in news articles. He said the lawyers noted all of his contacts with members of Congress and their staffs.
Rost said he complied but has no plans to quit the company or stop speaking out on the issue. "People are dying, and if I can make a difference by speaking out, it is clearly worth it," Rost said. "I think it would be immoral for me not to continue to speak out."
Rost said he believes that he cannot be fired for his comments because they were made on his own time and are protected in New York, where Pfizer is based, and in New Jersey, where he lives, under laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on political beliefs.
Last week, Chuck Hardwick, a senior vice president at Pfizer, sent a letter to several members of Congress stating, "Dr. Rost has no qualifications to speak on importation, no responsibilities in this area at Pfizer, no knowledge of the information and analysis Pfizer has provided to the government on this issue, and no substantive grasp of how importation may impact the safety of this nation's drug supply."
Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) was skeptical of Pfizer's response. "If Dr. Rost had been down here talking about the dangers of importation, I am sure he would have received a bouquet of flowers," he said.