The emails filling your inbox promise big discounts on the little blue pill known for giving men a boost in the bedroom.
It’s not clear how much of that Viagra spam — or how many of the 24 million Internet searches annually for the erectile-dysfunction drug — lead to purchases of counterfeit drugs, siphoning business from the drug’s manufacturer, Pfizer.
But there has been enough online activity to compel Pfizer to begin offering Viagra — its most-counterfeited medicine — online, too.
Many men buy the drug online to avoid having to go to a pharmacist to have the prescription filled.
Now, at viagra.com, men can have their prescriptions filled by CVS Caremark Corp. without going to a drugstore. Men still need to see a doctor to obtain a prescription. Pfizer declined to say how many prescriptions have been filled through the website since it began offering the service a month ago. About 8 million Viagra prescriptions were filled in the United States last year, said IMS Health, a health-care technology and information company.
Much is at stake for Pfizer. Viagra generated $1.13 billion in U.S. sales and $2.05 billion in worldwide sales for the company in 2012.
Many people buy Viagra online at a lower cost. A spokeswoman said Pfizer charges pharmacies $22 per Viagra pill. A six-pill prescription typically costs consumers with Tier II or Tier III coverage $29 and $49, respectively.
But Pfizer said that most of the Viagra bought online is counterfeit. The company said it bought the drug from 22 websites and found that about80 percent of the pills were fakes.
“You may be getting no therapeutic value whatsoever from the counterfeit drug that you’re taking,” said Matthew Bassiur, vice president of Pfizer Global Security.
In fact, Bassiur said, counterfeit Viagra can be dangerous. Pfizer has found that counterfeit Viagra bought online can include rat poison, boric acid, wallboard or lead-based road paint. Sometimes, printer ink is used to make the pills blue, Bassiur said. In other cases, the counterfeit Viagra contains no trace of the active ingredient, sildenafil citrate, or contains far too much of it.
Counterfeiters “don’t care, as long as it makes money,” Bassiur said.
A report issued in April by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy found that97 percent of websites selling prescription drugs to U.S. patients are doing so illegally or fraudulently.
Aside from health and safety, such websites raise privacy concerns, said Carmen Catizone, the association’s executive director. “If you’ve got someone who’s willing to sell counterfeit drugs, they’re not going to draw the line and say, ‘We’re not going to sell your personal information.’??"
This fall, the association plans to launch a top-level domain — .pharmacy, similar to .com — and will use it as a means of policing online pharmaceutical sales.
Until then, consumers can ascertain whether an online pharmacy is legitimate by going to the association’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites webpage: http://vipps.nabp.net.
Consumers who plan to buy medication online also should check to see whether the pharmacy lists an address, which should be in the United States. It’s also recommended that consumers verify a pharmacist’s legitimacy through the appropriate state’s board of pharmacy.
By Ben Sutherly - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services