Pfizer executive testifies in favor of drug re-importation

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(Host) A drug industry executive told lawmakers on Thursday that allowing people to buy cheaper prescriptions from other countries will save lives and save money. Several House and Senate committees are working on the re-importation issue. Democratic leaders want to pass a bill by Town Meeting Day.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Peter Rost is a medical doctor who has spent much of his career with drug companies. He’s now a marketing vice president for Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporation.

But Rost spends much of his free time these days publicly challenging the industry’s position on re-importation.

(Rost) “I realize there is an issue for the industry about the bottom line. There is an issue about jobs. But when you have to choose between jobs and life, you have to choose life.”

(Dillon) Democratic lawmakers brought Rost to Montpelier as their star witness in favor of re-importation. Rost’s direct criticism of the industry he works for has also drawn national attention. On Wednesday, he was trailed by a camera crew for 60 Minutes, the CBS news show.

The Pfizer executive scoffs at the argument that re-imported drugs are unsafe. He says the real issue is that not enough people can afford to buy life-saving medications.

(Rost) “When you have a situation where one part of the world, like Europe, has done something like this for over 20 years, it is almost derogatory to claim that Americans would not be able to both safely and cost-effectively handle re-importation of drugs. It’s obviously ridiculous – of course we can do it. So I’m here for one simple reason, as I see it: to save lives, to make a difference.”

(Dillon) House and Senate committees studying the issue also heard from an Illinois official who coordinates a four-state re-importation program.

The federal government says re-importation is illegal. But Caleb Weaver, project manager for the Illinois program, said that the Food and Drug Administration has not taken action against his state.

(Weaver) “The FDA so far has done absolutely nothing, other than a local Chicago investigator called our office the day after the program was launched and stated that he wanted to come get some information from us. About a week later he called back to say he had been given the order from above that they were not going to proceed at that time.”

(Dillon) States like Illinois had first turned to Canada for cheaper prescription drugs. But the Canadian government is considering limiting exports. So the Illinois plan also allows people to buy from European countries in order to spread the risk in case Canada shuts down sales to the U.S.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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