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Majority of consumed Viagra fake say researchers

Published on 03/07/14 at 09:53am
Viagra image

At least two-thirds of Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra used in the Netherlands may be illegal, researchers are warning.

In a letter published by the British Medical Journal, they say the consumption of illicit drugs might ‘dwarf consumption’ of legitimate versions – and are now calling for the further inquiry into the apparent success of rogue online pharmacies.

The letter follows reports of a record number of fake drugs seized under Operation Pangea VI, which the authors say “is just the tip of the iceberg”.

They therefore set out to estimate the actual use of illicit Viagra (sildenafil) using sewage epidemiology, an established science for monitoring drugs of abuse.

They measured Viagra levels at sewage treatment plants serving three cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Utrecht) over a seven-day period.

Consumption of legitimately dispensed sildenafil was estimated from the national dispensary database 12 months prior to the study, until three months after.

They found that at least 60% of the drug could not be explained by dispensing records (Amsterdam 61%, Eindhoven 79% and Utrecht 66 per cent).

“Despite major differences in tourism and commuting, the illicit fraction is similar for each city,” say the authors. “Consequently, the unexplained fraction is primarily ascribed to the use of illicit sildenafil.”

If this is representative of other communities, “consumption of illicit erectile dysfunction drugs might dwarf the consumption of the legitimately dispensed versions,” they warn.

The apparent success of rogue online pharmacies would be an important area of further inquiry, they conclude.

The drug began to lose its patent across Europe last year but has still been bringing in around $2 billion in sales, with half of this coming from the US.

But the famous diamond blue pill has been a target for illegal versions of the drug, and Pfizer has been battling for years to combat illicit copies sold over the internet.

The firm announced last year that it would sell its drug online in via its Viagra.com website, although this is only available for US men.

It hopes that this will mean fewer of thosen will use illegal sites to buy the drug, and also forgo the perceived embarrassment of visiting a doctor for a prescription.

At the site’s launch, Dr Tom Brett, medical director of Lloydspharmacy Online Doctor, said: “We hope that the black market through illegal websites will shrink. Hundreds of websites have been shut down and 68,000 illegal doses were seized [in 2012] - although it’s impossible to know the extent of the problem.”

This latest study from the Netherlands illustrates that Pfizer and generic drugmakers of sildenafil still have an uphill struggle to combat all illicit versions.

Ben Adams 

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