In this article, I will discuss the observations of unethical and criminal activity that have been repeatedly made by whistleblowers in the pharmaceutical industry. The focus will be on insider disclosures of the toxic corporate culture at Pfizer and the company’s habitual tendency to conduct illegal activity in order to maximize pharmaceutical sales. In many cases, this misconduct has lead to disastrous consequences (e.g., for participants in its experimental trials or for the public at large their drugs were marketed to), and in each case, Pfizer has done everything it can to conceal its illegal activity.
In the first part of this series, I discussed the profound challenges a whistleblower faces when they break the code of silence held by the pharmaceutical industry. Nonetheless, a few people have been willing to make that sacrifice, and there is so much to learn from each of them. If you have not yet read it, I would highly recommend reading it first.
The Forgotten Side of Medicine -- What Can We Learn From the Pfizer Whistleblowers?
Because that code of silence has been in place for decades, the public is relatively unaware of what goes on within the industry. When insiders provide a window into that dark world, it is both shocking and difficult to believe. I had been working on this series for a while and felt that this was the time to release it because it helps create the context for both what Jordan Walker confided to Project Veritas about Pfizer and his surreal breakdown once he realized what he had done.
In this series, I chose to focus on Peter Rost, a pharmaceutical executive who, through a very odd set of circumstances, became a Pfizer Vice President (Pfizer typically never lets outsiders assume that role). Once appointed, he found himself in the very odd position of having to dig up as much dirt on Pfizer as possible to avoid getting fired. Rost witnessed the Pfizer company cruelly abusing his Pharmacia coworkers and to a lesser extent Pfizer’s own employees (detailed in part 1); therefore, he was not opposed to unearthing information that incriminated Pfizer. Best of all, because Rost had been stripped of his work responsibilities, he had plenty of time to investigate his employer.
Rost’s talent was recognized by his sales-focused industry, and many of his superiors held him in high regard. Unfortunately for Pfizer, as detailed in part 1, Rost was not comfortable being complicit in criminal activity, so when he encountered it, he would choose to take action against it (thereby putting himself in conflict with the ethos of his industry).
In a previous job, Rost had reported Wyeth (another large pharmaceutical company) for tax evasion, and as fate would have it, that lawsuit became publicized shortly after Rost had managed to put himself in a position where Pfizer could not fire him. Nonetheless, Pfizer did all that they could against Rost, including providing much of the incriminating information they had collected on him to Wyeth.
Due to the previous lawsuit against Wyeth, Rost was able to obtain a copy of all documentation on him that Pfizer and Pharmacia had sent to his previous employer to Wyeth (which began occurring once they were made aware of his lawsuit against Wyeth). From these documents, Rost learned that Pfizer and Pharmacia had hired private investigators to dig up as much dirt as possible on him to prove that he was a security risk, and then they had forwarded these documents to Wyeth:
I had never seen anything like this before and I was truly shocked and appalled. I had gone from company high performer to security threat in a matter of days. This was something I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. Pharmacia was a company that I had trusted—the fact that I had found illegal marketing and sales methods in my department didn’t mean that I stopped trusting the entire corporation. But now, I felt as if I had been in a beautiful candlelit room, only to have a lightning flash suddenly reveal cracks, mold, and cob- webs. I just couldn't believe what I saw, and even worse, they had sent all this to Wyeth. All the loyalty I had felt to the company, all the respect I had had for executives in the organization vanished. And I was left with the ugly truth: I couldn’t trust anyone. To even try to talk to them and reason with them was futile.
But it got worse. As I flipped through the pages, I found more notes that Pharmacia’s lawyer had written after I had spoken with him. The most sensitive parts were blocked out by a fat black marker, but what remained was astonishing in itself. According to his conclusions, I had no choices; I was out of a job with no likelihood of employment in the industry; I had every incentive to fight Pfizer, and he also claimed that I already hated them. This was news to me: I hardly knew Pfizer, but I certainly was reevaluating what I thought of Pharmacia after reading this. Then came the whopper—the notes implied that I might put a gun to my head so my family could get my life insurance.
All of a sudden I realized what a mistake I had made, trying to get help from a Pharmacia lawyer. I recalled that during our conversation he had suggested for me to contact the Employee Assistance Program. Perhaps this attitude shouldn’t have been surprising; Pharmacia’s lawyer clearly thought that anyone who tried to resolve potential criminal acts within the company and keep his job was a mental case [_Rost also highlighted that a common tactic utilized by the Soviet Union against political dissidents was to diagnose them as being psychotic and then forcefully confine them to asylums_].
Fortunately, Pfizer failed to realize the mess they were in, because they had never dealt with someone who knew how to fight back:
In the next round of documents Pharmacia delivered to Wyeth a few weeks later, I saw Ronald’s reaction first-hand. His first mail to Pharmacia’s chief legal officer asked, “What the heck is this all about?”? Pharmacia responded that I seemed to believe that by not offering me a job, Pfizer was unlawfully retaliating against me. Then Pharmacia’s general counsel wrote, “I haven't done the research, but the theory seems dubious.”
This was very interesting. Pharmacia’s most senior legal officer admitted that he hadn't checked the legal implications of the actions they had taken against me. They clearly didn’t think I was al that important. While this is always a sobering realization, it also showed me how unprepared they were for dealing with an employee who actually knew some of his rights.
In short, a wonderful confluence of circumstances arose, which positioned Rost to do something no one else to my knowledge has ever done.
Digging for Dirt
Since he needed to ensure his job security, Rost decided that the best use of his time at work was to dig up as much dirt on Pfizer as possible:
I went on an info hunt, and it didn’t take long until I found my next surprise. Back in 2001, thirty Nigerian families had sued Pfizer in federal court, saying the company conducted an unethical clinical trial of an antibiotic [as the sole treatment for meningitis] on their children. The suit referred to a letter from the hospital saying the study had been approved by the ethics committee, and the suit claimed that Pfizer had backdated the letter.
Moreover, a Pfizer infectious disease specialist [discussed later in the article] had repeatedly told Pfizer management that the company was violating international law and medical ethics standards. He was subsequently dismissed and later settled with the company, according to other newspaper reports. Clearly, the fact that Pfizer was accused of backdating one letter and that I might have received another one was significant. And so was the fact that they had fired one alleged whistleblower already.
One of the many red flags raised here is Pfizer’s tendency to repeat the same criminal activity (Rost uncovered this series of events shortly after receiving a legal letter which he was almost certain was backdated).
Pfizer’s Employee Survey
Note: The quotations in this section and the next one comprise what is arguably the most important parts of the article.
Given that I didn’t have much to do anymore I had ample time to seek out Pfizer's weaknesses. As I searched the corporate intranet, I found exactly what I needed. Pfizer had done an exhaustive employee survey in 2001, and it was clear from the first page that CEO Hank McKinnell was proud about the fact that 88 percent of Pfizer’s employees had responded. There was lots of wonderful information about what Pfizer employees thought of the company; the highest ranked statement was, “I like working for Pfizer.” A whopping 89 percent of the employees agreed with this sentence.
The second most favorable result was generated by the statement, “I am proud to work for Pfizer,” a full 88 percent agreed with this. Only a contrarian might wonder why 12 percent weren't proud to work at Pfizer, or what those employees might have known about the company. At the time this survey was taken, 12 percent was equivalent to 6,000 employees.
But those weren't the numbers I was interested in. There was a different table in the survey that showed the lowest-ranked statements, and here things started to get interesting. The two most unfavorable ratings were given to the statements, “The right people get promoted,” and “People are promoted for the right reasons.” Only 36 percent and 42 percent agreed with these statements.
Soon I also discovered some data that didn’t rank at the bottom, but still was a major red flag to anyone that cares about corporate ethics. Some 30 percent of Pfizer’s employees, or about 15,000 persons at the time, didn’t agree with the statement, “Senior management demonstrates honest, ethical behavior.” And 34 percent didn’t agree with, “I have confidence and trust in senior management.” But the real surprise was that 49 percent didn’t agree with the statement, “Management is willing to give up short-term gain to do the right thing.” What was going on in Pfizer’s executive suite?
Note: Pfizer subsequently tried to bury these embarrassing results. The 2004 survey removed the embarrassing questions and the 2001 survey was wiped from the server after Rost discovered it. As this article will show, Pfizer has a tendency to make inconvenient documents disappear.
It wasn't hard to make the connection with the rumors I had heard before the acquisition. Pfizer had a stellar public reputation, but what Pharmacia employees had been told by their Pfizer counter- parts was something very different. This was a company managed by a group of people who had grown up together, partied together, and some of them had also allegedly spent time together between the sheets. What we heard was amazing—almost unbelievable.
I set out to find the truth. First I spoke to someone I knew well, an HR manager who had left Pfizer quite recently. He had spent many years working at Pfizer and believed the rumors were true—a group within Pfizer’s management had been in and out of bed with each other for a number of years. In one instance a senior person allegedly dated a direct report while he was married. Soon after, that direct report turned and dated a guy reporting to her. And then this guy dated several women in his department.
The problem with this alleged situation was that it could create tensions if someone thought someone else received a favorable treatment because of sexual favors. Real or imagined, this is a situation that can’t be tolerated by any management, since senior executives need to lead by example and can’t be effective if they aren't respected, which, clearly, certain Pfizer executives were not.
I actually knew someone who had worked with the woman in one of these alleged relationships. We met over lunch and I asked him to confirm if the stories were true. He claimed that not only were the stories true, he had personally observed the woman and her subordinate touch and make loving gestures. He also said that their behavior had been embarrassing to other people who were in the same room as these two.
He explained how they'd had to make special arrangements when the female executive was dating her boss, whenever his wife appeared at corporate functions.
I realized that if any of this were true, it could cause a public meltdown of Pfizer’s management team, much like the recent scandal at Boeing that had forced the CEO’s resignation. I also sensed that if Pfizer knew that I knew, they might just handle me more carefully.
After Rost alerted Pfizer to these issues, he succeeded in further raising their alarm, and their legal team immediately moved to investigate them. In the process, he learned even more about Pfizer’s leadership structure:
Before the meeting ended I repeatedly asked them to hire an independent law firm that could shield the identities of the people who had given me this information. In response, they made it clear that was not “how they operated.” They also discussed, and half laughed, about the impossibility of approaching the managers that were allegedly involved in these affairs. It was clear to me that they didn’t think they could confront members of senior management. I wondered if they would have been so cautious if this had been, for example, a district manager having an affair with a sales rep or someone else further down in the power structure.
In Rost’s continued quest to investigate wrongdoings, he found evidence that executives from Pharmacia’s Japan division had been cooking the books to inflate their sales numbers by reassigning sales from the next year to the previous one, in order to inflate their sales numbers to obtain a bonus. They also paid off wholesalers to go along with them. As he continued to look further into it, he also found evidence that this practice was also occurring in Pharmacia’s European markets.
This deceptive method is known as channel stuffing (“selling” more to the distribution channels than they can sell) and it inevitably unravels itself, since that increase keeps on needing to pull from more and more revenue in subsequent years to sustain itself.
Since channel stuffing constitutes investor fraud (as it provides incorrect data used to determine stock prices), the government will frequently prosecute it. Channel stuffing caused Enron’s downfall (the CEO was criminally sentenced but died shortly before his sentencing). In 2004, another pharmaceutical company, Bristol-Myers Squibb, was fined 150 million dollars for doing this. Similarly, another lawsuit involving channel stuffing eventually resulted in a 750 million dollar fine for ArthroCare, a surgical medical device manufacturer (along with prison sentences for its CEO and CFO).
I believe this prioritization of legal prosecution has developed because the wealthy write our laws, and the government is more incentivized to protect the interests of the rich (as opposed to those of the general public who are harmed by bad drugs). Similarly, my friends in the financial industry have seen that the most truthful information you can ever get from a pharmaceutical company is in its financial reports to investors.
Given the penalties for channel stuffing, this report also was of great concern to Pfizer, and gave Rost even more leverage over them. This was especially the case once Pfizer failed to appropriately address the issues, which in return gave Rost the grounds to open a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission( SEC) investigation.
Because Pfizer could not fire Rost, they tried to make things uncomfortable for him. He soon was reduced to having one employee (a secretary), isolated from everyone while at work, and left with nothing to do except show up at his office. They also repeatedly moved his office, until he pointed out that this constituted illegal harassment of a whistleblower. Since Rost was not allowed to do any work for Pfizer, he used that free time to research Pfizer’s internal workings, motivated also by their unconscionable abuse of their employees.
As Rost began bringing more improper and even illegal activity to Pfizer’s attention, he also noted this his emails would disappear, and incriminating documents he’d located would disappear. Eventually, Pfizer cut his access to his email without stating who had done it. Similarly, his communications (email and phone) were constantly monitored (despite this being against company policy), and Pfizer’s operators were instructed to prevent anyone from reaching him over the phone (although a sympathetic employee in the PR department sometimes would put them through).
To evaluate exactly how Pfizer was treating him behind his back, Rost would periodically utilize contacts in the industry to probe their behavior:
I spoke to the recruiter later in the day and I asked her where she had called and what the operator had said. The recruiter told me she had called Pfizer in New York, they had asked what her name was and the reason she wanted to talk to me, as well as some other questions.
“This happens al the time,” she said.
“Does this happen with al the pharmaceutical companies?” I asked.
“No, only with Pfizer. No one else does this.”
I asked her why she thought Pfizer did this, and she responded that based on the questions she had received she thought they recorded the information.
Rost Goes Public
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is considered to be one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, and is also a frequent repository for fraudulent studies used to push some of the best selling pharmaceutical products onto the market (e.g., the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine or the COVID vaccine). In 2004, four years after her retirement (and a year into Rost’s purgatory), the chief editor of the NEJM, Marcia Angell M.D., published an excellent exposé of the issues within the drug industry, and the medical journals' complicity in this enterprise.
One of the quotes Dr. Angell is best known for is:
“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”
_Note: More quotes from Dr. Angell can be found here._
On a whim, Rost decided to pen a review on Amazon, strongly endorsing Dr. Angell’s book, and within it openly declared that he was a Pfizer executive (it’s worth reading). This quickly got the attention of a journalist from USA Today who quoted Rost’s review in an article on the subject:
"It's really hard to find new drugs, and it's getting harder and harder," Rost, representing himself, not Pfizer, said in an interview. "There is a lot of low-hanging fruit out there that has been picked off. It is very, very difficult to really find a breakthrough." Instead, Rost says, drugmakers focus on tweaking existing drugs to make money, not to advance science.
_Note: As discussed in the previous article, in recent decades the inability to produce breakthrough drugs has been a major challenge for the industry (most of the new drugs are redundant unneeded “Me-too” drugs). I believe this dearth was a key motivation for why the mRNA technology was pushed through, as there is an almost limitless number of proprietary drugs that could be made with it._
For decades, America has been known for having the worst ratio between healthcare expenditures and healthcare quality in the world (i.e., many places that spend far less than us have much better healthcare outcomes for their populace). Most tragically, this ratio only continues to worsen as we move forward in time (presently about 20% of all spending in the United States goes to healthcare).
Because there is so much money involved, I would argue that the systemic corruption within our healthcare system is almost inevitable. There is the tendency towards monopolization to protect its industry from competition In turn, the debacle we’ve witnessed throughout COVID-19 represented the inevitable progression of this industry’s greed.
It should, thus, come as no surprise that the drug industry charges as much for medications as it believes it can get away with. The cost of the same drugs varies widely from country to country, and as you might guess, the worst price-gouging occurs within the United States. Many people who struggle to afford their medications in the U.S. have noticed that these medications are much cheaper on the other side of the U.S. border (e.g., a Canadian pharmacy).
This observation has given rise to the practice of “drug reimportation” where drugs made in the United States that were exported for sale are bought in the international market and then imported back to the United States, and sold for a much lower price than they typically cost domestically. If you believe in capitalism and the free-market, drug reimportation should be allowed to correct market imbalances created by price gouging. However, if your business goal is to maintain a monopoly (and pay off the government to enforce it), drug reimportation is a huge problem, as it cuts into a lot of the profits made by ripping off the American public.
At this point, I have watched decades of failed attempts to reform the out-of-control costs in the healthcare system. In each case, because the legislators responsible for writing those laws (in one way or another) are bought out, no one was willing to tackle the real sources of price gouging in our healthcare marketplace, and each of those attempts failed. I would argue that this is why healthcare spending continues to rise in the United States.
As luck would have it for Rost, at the time he penned his review, the hot political issue was allowing drug reimportation (which the pharmaceutical was trying to torpedo by arguing that it somehow threatened consumer safety). Since Rost was a pharmaceutical executive willing to speak out against these practices (something virtually unheard of due to the consequences of doing so), and he knew a lot about the subject (e.g., Europe had had no issues with drug reimportation), he rapidly attracted the attention of the press and politicians who were trying to advance this issue.
I have to admit that my lawyer was not happy about al this. His job was to protect my legal case, which he told me was excellent. The fact that I was speaking up made me vulnerable and could have ruined the whole case. He was surely right that I took a big risk, but I felt that it was more important that I got the message out. And after a few months, Jon even said that I was doing a pretty good job. “Who knows,” he admitted. “You might actually achieve some change.”
Before long, Rost was called before congress to testify on the reimported drug issue. This was a nightmare for Pfizer (as their business depended upon inflated American drug prices), and in their panic, Pfizer managed to make things even worse for themselves through their crude attempts to discredit Rost and prevent him from communicating with the public. Before long, Rost’s message was heard throughout America.
But journalists and news anchors were still very surprised that I didn’t get fired [Rost could not publicly disclose his whistleblower status at the time]. It was as if everyone had forgotten that we live in a democracy with freedom of speech and other basic rights.
The biggest surprise, however, wasn't the flood of e-mails, or that many employees were upset about what I had said. The biggest surprise was that so many actually agreed with my comments. In fact, about 40 percent of the e-mails I received were supportive. I imagine it took a lot more guts to write a positive e-mail than to send a critical message and copy a superior. In truth, I wished my supporters hadn’t written, since I assumed that Pfizer was reading my e-mail.
Even a retiree wrote and agreed with me, “I applaud your efforts to encourage a more constructive approach to pharmaceutical importation. As a recent retiree from Pfizer, I am worried that by being short- sighted, Pfizer is doing something that is not its own best interest.”
_Note: Alex Berenson who wrote for the New York Times when Rost went public played a critical role in bringing Rost’s story to America. I suspect one of the reasons Berenson later became a critic of the COVID-19 response was because his career began in a bygone era when liberal journalists could still criticize the pharmaceutical industry and Bernson made a point to do just that during his time at the NYT._
Ultimately, Rost became too hot for anyone at Pfizer to handle, eventually leading to a situation where:
I never heard from either one of them [his assigned supervisors] again. To the best of my knowledge, I became the only Pfizer employee without a boss.
Pfizer nonetheless continued to harass Rost (e.g., they sent lawyers to monitor him at presentations he gave), while Rost continued to find creative ways to cause headaches for Pfizer (many are detailed within his book). One of the most impressive results he achieved was a group of doctors (unhappy with how Pfizer was treating Rost) independently deciding to ban Pfizer sales reps from their practices.
Pfizer is a very sales-oriented company and these events shook them up. Their worst nightmare would be a national boycott of their products.
What Happened with Drug Reimportation?
Although Rost was able to make the issue of drug reimportation a nationwide issue, it ultimately failed to be legalized because the “safety concerns could not be addressed.” While this result was expected, there were three interesting things I took away from all of it.
The first was how the issue was squashed (this should sound familiar to all of you):
By the end of December 2004, the Department of Health and Human Services came out with their report on drug importation. The report admitted that it would be possible to safely import drugs on a large scale, but claimed that establishing such a system wouldn't be cost effective.' The report also concluded that such a system would harm pharmaceutical companies’ research and development efforts.
The report was required by the new Medicare law, and had been developed by a thirteen-member panel led by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona. Not surprisingly, the panel consisted of many rep- resentatives from several government agencies that oppose prescrip- tion drug reimportation.
They [and later Pfizer] used a study by the London School of Economics, which claimed that national health systems within the EU realized minimal savings from parallel- traded products. There was just one thing both the HHS report and the Pfizer letter forgot to mention. This “study” had been funded by the drug industry.
The second was the FDA’s promises to develop a “safe” way to import and reimport pharmaceuticals which two decades later still has not happened.
The final one was that some congressmen who had supported Rost at the time were still in the government twenty years later (e.g., Bernie Sanders), at which point, they chose to switch sides and stand behind Pfizer and their COVID-19 vaccine. Somewhat analogously, although many of my friends love Bernie Sanders, I have always been suspicious of him, because I know of cases where parents of vaccine-injured children tried to raise this issue with him and he shut them down instead of listening (Sanders has built a reputation as an advocate for disenfranchised groups that no one else will listen to).
The only other whistleblower I know of who was a pharmaceutical executive was John Virapen, so I will include him even though he was not involved with Pfizer. Virapen began life as a colonial subject of the British Empire (which translated to a childhood of abuse, discrimination, and poverty), in British Guyana, and eventually became a pharmaceutical sales rep. He excelled at what he was doing and eventually became an Eli Lilly executive in Sweden, who played the pivotal role in getting Prozac approved globally. Like Rost, he was backstabbed by the industry. Specifically, Eli Lilly fired Virapen after he won the approval, something he believed was due to Eli Lilly, like Pfizer being an old boys’ network that did not want an outsider of color like him in the management (Rost’s story likewise shows a similar old boys’ network existing at Pfizer).
Virapen experienced a great deal of guilt for what he was complicit in, and like Rost after he was fired, found himself in circumstances where he could speak out against the industry. In his memoir, he shared the routine criminal activity he engaged in (e.g., he had to make bribes to get Prozac approved in Sweden). He resorted to blackmail, such as photographing physicians with Eli-Lilly-provided prostitutes, to pressure them to conform to Eli Lilly’s sales requirements.
Note: a more detailed version of Virapen’s story can be found here. If Youtube pulls the above video, it can also be found here.
Dr. Juan Walterspiel
Although to my knowledge, no other executive has come forward, the pharmaceutical industry has many other whistleblowers including former Pfizer employees. For example, in the previously mentioned illegal Pfizer experiment in Nigeria, 11 of the 200 children with meningitis who were studied died [most of whom should not have with proper care], and later the highly toxic antibiotic they tested was subsequently pulled from the market.
One of the doctors at Pfizer’s research center tried to warn them about the trial but was ignored and eventually fired despite being a whistleblower (all of the events and the whistleblower lawsuit are summarized here and here). In addition to the trial being conducted in a reprehensible way (and was thought to have inspired the Constant Gardener), evidence also emerged that Pfizer bribed the Nigerian government to conduct the trial, and falsified documentation to appease the regulatory authorities.
Pfizer is also notorious for being greedy enough with their sales practices to be repeatedly fined for their criminal conduct (sadly this is not a complete list of Pfizer’s criminal settlements):
The 2.3 billion dollar settlement was for Bextra. Bextra was Pfizer’s version of Vioxx, and, like Vioxx, was aggressively promoted for off-label uses, and eventually was pulled from the market for causing too many fatal heart attacks and strokes (Bextra was pulled in 2005, Vioxx in 2004).
The whistleblower who helped initiate the lawsuit, John Kopchinski, was a sales rep who was recruited by Pfizer’s CEO during his early 1990s acquisition of veterans. In early 2003, Kopchinski raised concerns over Bextra, and instead of being listened to, was summarily dismissed from the company and left jobless. A few excerpts from his story mirror the experiences of many other Pfizer whistleblowers:
“Particularly in pharma, it’s no secret that it’s an industry that can blackball former employees,” Kelton [Kopchinski’s attorney] said, “so the reward is important both to encourage people to step forward and to recognize that their contributions are huge.”
[Less than a year after being hired by Pfizer], Kopchinski was selling the epilepsy drug Neurontin when a previous whistleblower’s suit was unveiled against [Pfizer] over similar illegal promotion tactics that led to stiff penalties and a form of corporate probation [Pfizer has been repeatedly forced to sign a corporate integrity agreements with the U.S. government].
At the time, [Kopchinski] was told by managers that the Neurontin suit would be in the news and any physicians who asked questions should be told it was just complaints from a disgruntled former employee, Kopchinski said. Ironically, after filing the Bextra suit, “I was the disgruntled former employee,” he said. [
In both the Bextra case (detailed here) and the Neurontin case (detailed here), Pfizer followed a fairly similar pattern. They aggressively pushed their sales reps to prescribe as many drugs as possible (and provided bonuses for doing so), and they used an elaborate scheme of bribes to incentivize doctors to prescribe these drugs. Most of the uses Pfizer made up for the drugs had nothing to do with the drug’s intended use, and in many cases, these reckless uses were quite dangerous to patients.
Note: Another drug in the same class as Bextra, Celebrex, was also aggressively promoted by Pfizer (and sold by reps like James Reidy). Instead of being pulled from the market, it received a black box warning from the FDA. Later in 2016, Pfizer was forced to pay 406 million dollars to shareholders because of the losses they incurred from Pfizer concealing the harms of Bextra and Celebrex.
Most of the pharmaceutical employees who worked on the retail end of the business have come forward with similar stories of their sales culture. The below video, although not from Pfizer, gives one of my favorite windows into this world (I hope you liked the ending I added to it):
This circa 2000 clip shows how Pharma sales reps are trained behind the scenes. Like Pfizer, GSK aggressively and illegally promotes drugs (like this one) and has received billions in fines. I can't even imagine how much wilder the industry has become since this was filmed.
Jamie Reidy was one of the many veterans picked up in Pfizer’s recruitment drive for ex-military in the early 1990s, and his story mirrored what other former Pfizer representatives have told me—they were an ideal demographic because Pfizer wanted a pool of candidates who would follow corporate’s sales scripts and not deviate from them. Reidy eventually published his experiences within a comical memoir released while Rost was making waves in the national press (Rost likewise helped Reidy on the national PR front). Reidy’s self-deprecating memoir was later adapted into a popular romantic comedy, Love and Other Drugs, so his story is one of the better-known peeks inside Pfizer (it also resulted in him immediately being fired by the new pharmaceutical company employing him).
Since Pfizer established their dominance in the market through the success of their sales division, I was quite interested to hear Reidy’s perspective on the the nuts and bolts of the operation.
Pfizer being Pfizer, however, it didn’t have to resort to trolling college campuses; Pfizer could pick and choose its sales force from candidates who got their start at other companies.
Pfizer’s approach was built around utilizing algorithms their marketing research team had developed, which identified the most effective scripts for each stage of the sales process (from opening the encounter through closing the deal). Pfizer essentially practiced evidence-based sales and had the results to validate their model. Many of these scripts are quite interesting to read through. Each illustrates how each pharmaceutical company would twist the data to support their drug, and how much of a doctor’s education and comprehension of the drugs they prescribed resulted from what the sales reps primed them to focus on (note: so much of human behavior is explained by what people have been primed to focus on).
Pfizer’s model thus required inspiring zealotry and standardization in its salesforce (as Rost detailed in the first half of this series, Pfizer reps were well known for this tactic):
From Day One, people told us how great we were. “Pat yourselves on the back,” our first speaker said, “because you are the cream of the crop.” I had already noticed that our class did not lack confidence, and the knowing grins on people’s faces confirmed my perception.
“Any drug rep from any company will tell you that he left initial training thinking that his drugs were the best in the industry, such was the power of pharmaceutical brainwashing [I wonder if this also applies to Jordan Walker’s department]. Pfizer reps departed training with a “Pass me the Kool-Aid” conviction that not “only were our drugs the best in the industry, but also that our company was the best in the world. Doctors and competing reps alike routinely commented on a “Pfizer attitude,” a tangible vibe suggesting we were intrinsically better than any other salespeople. Interestingly, army trainees emerge from boot camp with a similar sense of indestructibility, an unshakable belief that there could not be a more prepared soldier on earth. The key to creating this self-confidence [bravado] in both arenas was the same: an endless repetition of messages and tasks [Note: Pfizer would also frequently tell reps in service about how wonderful Pfizer was].”
“The brainwashing was not limited to our view of ourselves, however. Rather, the Pfizer training staff instilled within us indelibly negative impressions of our competitors, creating a hatred for people we had yet to compete against, let alone meet”
“They lied. They cheated. Their women dressed slutty. They bought physicians’ love with extravagant dinners and golf at Pebble Beach, instead of earning it through ethical practices. (I later learned that every company told its reps that they did things the “right way,” while the other companies cheated.) ”
Although Pfizer had been repeatedly fined for criminal sales activity, I didn’t see anything within Reidy’s memoir that was clearly illegal. Much to the disdain of the sales reps, although headquarters was always pushing the reps to sell more, headquarters was also shutting down any plan reps implemented which was potentially illegal (bribes to prescribe or promoting a drug for uses it was not approved for—known as off-label marketing).
The only cases I found in his book where the sales reps employed external incentives to influence a physician to prescribe their drug was through utilizing their sex appeal (and sometimes seducing either the physician or their staff). However, unlike monetary bribes, this is nearly impossible to outlaw so it has never been made illegal.
At the time Viagra came out, because no reasonable treatments for erectile dysfunction existed, everyone was clamoring for it (to the point that Viagra samples were regularly stolen). Not surprisingly, it was soon sought out by individuals beyond those it had been approved for (old men with poor circulation impeding erections). As a result, some off-label marketing to women and younger men for increased sexual performance did eventually occur (even though Pfizer at the start told its reps not to do this, because the accelerated approval of the then-novel drug put them in a precarious position with the FDA).
In summary, I do not believe Reidy provided any concrete proof of illegal activity within Pfizer, so he is not technically a whistleblower. However, he did provide an invaluable window into the corporate culture of Pfizer which also helps put their behavior into context.
Note: Ever since its approval, a variety of side effects (including heart attacks, strokes, blindness, hearing loss, or melanoma) have been attributed to Viagra. As Reidy detailed, many of these were known from the start by Pfizer. Many lawsuits have been thus filed for these injuries. Unfortunately, the legal system rarely supports these types of lawsuits, so Pfizer (along with subsequent manufacturers of similar drugs) have been able to dodge most of them and settle the rest.
I mention this story last because it is potentially the most important one in this series (and resulted in him being named whistleblower of the year in 2012). Jones initially worked at Pennsylvania’s Office of the Inspector General (PA’s OIG) for 5 years (1986-1991), retired to be closer to his family, and then returned 11 years later in 2002, once his situation changed.
When he returned, he was assigned to investigate PA’s chief pharmacist, who Jones found was managing an unregistered bank account into which Johnson and Johnson (J&J) was essentially depositing illegal bribes. Additionally, some of that money was then transferred to the Director of Texas’s Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. In return for these funds, state officials traveled across the country to promote switching large numbers of patients to J&J’s new antipsychotic medication (which cost ten times as much as other similar drugs, and frequently created significant side effects).
Jones reported the case to his boss, and was told to drop the case as it was “too political” to touch. Since Jones did not comply, he was taken off the case. Then in 2003, he found out that J&J’s bribery lobbying was successful and everyone in PA would soon be switched to J&J’s drugs, regardless of their medical needs or background. Given that many of the people subject to this edict cannot oppose it (e.g., prisoners with mental illnesses or the many children who are pushed into the state mental health system), there were significant ethical issues with allowing it to proceed, which led to Jones deciding to risk his livelihood to stop it.
Note: I know a few people in foster care who were forcefully medicated with psychiatric drugs and had terrible experiences from them. To appreciate the full human cost of this greedy industry’s initiative to push their dangerous anti-psychotics on children, please read this article.
Jones filed a first amendment suit to protect himself, reported what was happening to the New York Times, and then was fired. Jones then filed suit against PA and set off a series of lawsuits (some of which were pursued by state Attorney Generals) and J&J ultimately had to pay billions of dollars in fines for their conduct. PA’s state Pharmacist was also convicted, but I feel his ultimate punishment was relatively minor. His conviction, however, is important to the current story because he was convicted of taking bribes from J&J and Pfizer.
Like Pfizer and J&J, AstraZeneca has also been fined billions for off-label-marketing, bribing physicians to prescribe their drugs, and was involved in the initiative to bribe state officials to push these medications on mental health patients. This bribery was not exclusive to the United States either; these three companies are currently being tried in court for bribing terrorists within the Iraqi government to coerce their Ministry of Health into using their products, and a few years ago, AstraZeneca was fined for bribing state health care providers in Russia and China to push their products.I hold the opinion that once the corruption of this industry is understood (which will probably always exist because of how much money there is to be made in medicine), the best path forward is to prohibit mandating of their products. If a product is safe and effective, it will sell itself and does not need to be forced on people.Unfortunately, the systemic fraud within this industry regularly brings bad pharmaceuticals to market that are neither safe nor effective.
As the examples with the state psychiatric programs show, this is a longstanding issue. It is my hope that bringing the public’s attention to the unjustifiable COVID-19 vaccine mandates can help bring about critical changes for medical autonomy that are needed throughout medicine.
Note: Since Moderna is a much newer company, an equivalent track record does not exist for them. I also believe this accounts for why they had a much less elaborate system in place to gaslight the participants in their clinical trials compared to the other COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers.
Pfizer eventually got fed up with Rost humiliating them on national television. He was fired and entered a protracted legal battle with Pfizer that eventually concluded in 2013 with an undisclosed settlement. At the time this happened, Pfizer made a point to widely publicize his termination in the national media. In Rost’s own words:
There is no question in my mind that Pfizer's [illegal] termination of whistleblowers [highlighted through this article] sends chilling signals to honest employees within the company. The media campaign they unleashed when they fired me served the same purpose. Pfizer’s outrage was apparent.
I hope that this article has made the case that Pfizer has a culture of corruption and a sociopathic leadership that has absolutely no problem with harming people or breaking the law to drive up sales. Assuming you accept that premise, I would argue that that means Pfizer was probably the worst party that could have been given a blank check by the government for the purpose of forcing an extremely dangerous experimental vaccine gene therapy onto the American people. Just think—if Pfizer already was that bad with government oversight--how bad do you think they would be once the government actively conspired to conceal their criminal activity and the harms of their product?
Similarly, if we consider the plight of many of the recent whistleblowers like Brook, the degree to which the government has chosen to ignore their claims is truly incredible. Similarly, nine months ago I covered an investigation by one of the less corrupt agencies of the government into HHS’s COVID-19 response, where they essentially concluded corruption trumped sound scientific policy (because employees in each department confided this in private interviews).
One of the most interesting things I discovered in it was just how hostile the U.S. Health and Human Services department (HHS,e.g., the CDC, NIH, and FDA) was to whistleblowers. None of the typically required safeguards existed to support employees blowing the whistle, and when queried, officials in each department could not cite a specific reason for why they had never gotten around to creating those safeguards.
Additionally, most of the employees felt that their leadership was already aware of the issues (and to some extent complicit in them), and they feared retaliation if they complained. Not surprisingly, between 2010-2021, there were zero cases where misconduct was officially reported by an employee of the HHS, and when asked, officials in each department interpreted this as a sign that no problems requiring reporting existed.
Sadly, corruption is not unique to the pharmaceutical industry, and many of the experiences shared by the brave whistleblowers in this series are mirrored by those outside of the medical industry. As you might expect, Pfizer and many of the other pharmaceutical companies involved in the COVID-19 vaccines (along with many defense contractors and other members of the medical industrial complex), have lobbied aggressively to restrict the ability of whistleblowers to uncover and correct their misdeeds. For example, consider what they did at the end of 2021, a year after their vaccines had entered the market.
As I look at how things have transpired decade by decade, it never ceases to amaze me how much more corrupt our government (and media) have become in a relatively short period of time. At the same time though, I believe Team Humanity still wins, because the internet has made it impossible to prevent the general public from becoming aware of these misdeeds.
As I end this series, I would like to share one of Rost’s concluding remarks which, like many other things he has shared, is just as true now as it was twenty years ago:
I didn’t always think this way. I didn’t want to become a whistleblower. I didn’t want to write this book. But in the end, I had to; I just couldn’t let the crooks win. The fact that you have just read this book means—to me—that I have won my fight against an overpowering opponent.
I for one, decades later, am profoundly grateful for the odd quirks of fate that led Rost to speak out against Pfizer.
I hope this article has provided some valuable context to fully appreciate Jordan Walker’s previous remarks to Project Veritas and his new ones today:
“If something were to happen downstream and it was, like, really bad? I mean, the scale of that scandal would be enormous.”
What goes on inside Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry is surreal, and I hope the window opened for you by these whistleblowers will allow you to draw your own conclusions about Pfizer’s culture and what really goes on behind the scenes. I admit I avoided discussing much of what jumped out to me from their testimonies (and those of whistleblowers from other pharmaceutical companies) since this series was already pushing the limit of how much people will read.
I thank each of you for the time you took to read this article and those who shared the series with the audience that needed to hear it.
Postscript: I meant to include this but completely forgot to. One of my colleagues occasionally saw a patient who was a vaccine sales rep for Pfizer that would actively boast about how often their entire family was vaccinated. In the middle of the vaccine roll-out, that patient showed up asking for a medical exemption from their vaccine.