Pfizer launches website for purchasing Viagra safely

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Home delivery option created to counter sales of counterfeit product

Men with erectile dysfunction (ED) can now buy Viagra online directly from Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer. Pfizer has partnered with CVS/pharmacy to launch Viagra.com, which allows patients to purchase the drug online from a trusted source, said the company in a recent news release. By providing this safe and legitimate alternative for buying Viagra, Pfizer hopes to rein in the sale of counterfeit products from fake online pharmacies that prey on unsuspecting patients.

Viagra is Pfizer’s most counterfeited drug. In 2011, the company evaluated 22 websites appearing in the top search results for the phrase “buy Viagra” and conducted chemical analysis of the drugs advertised as Viagra. Pfizer found that 80% percent of the drugs were counterfeit and contained only 30% to 50% of sildenafil citrate, Viagra’s active ingredient.

In addition to containing the wrong active ingredient or incorrect amounts of that ingredient, counterfeits are often “manufactured in filthy and deplorable conditions” and may include “potentially dangerous contaminants” said Matthew Bassiur, Vice President of Pfizer Global Security, in the news release. “Samples of counterfeit Viagra tested by our labs have contained pesticides, wallboard, commercial paint, and printer ink,” Bassiur continued.

Fake online pharmacies and the products they sell are an escalating public health threat. After a recent review of more than 10,000 Internet outlets selling prescription drugs, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) identified almost 97% of the sites as “not recommended” because they did not appear to meet criteria for legitimate online pharmacies.

Patients “recognize the difficulty in distinguishing between legitimate and fake pharmacies, yet they still may behave in ways that put them at risk of receiving counterfeit medicines,” according to Pfizer’s news release. For example, in a national survey of 1,000 men with ED conducted in 2011, more than 4 in 5 respondents (82%) said they believe it is difficult to determine if an online pharmacy is legitimate, yet 1 in 3 (36%) said they would consider purchasing ED medicines based on an online search. There are almost 24 million searches a year for Viagra alone, Pfizer reported.

Pfizer’s new website allows patients to submit a new Viagra prescription or refill an existing one, estimate their copay, and check the status of their order. CVS/pharmacy will operate the site and handle all back-end functions, including authentication of prescriptions. Its online pharmacy, CVS.com, has received accreditation through the NABP VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) program. Viagra.com offers free standard shipping in the continental United States and expedited shipping for a charge.

Some in the pharmacy community are troubled by Pfizer’s new venture. “We are disappointed with Pfizer’s move to sell Viagra online,” John Norton, Director of Public Relations for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), told pharmacist.com. “The pharmacist–patient bond can be instrumental in driving greater medication adherence and reducing the approximately $290 billion a year that is wasted on the improper use of medications,” he said. “Moreover, some of these patients may have multiple chronic conditions, in which case it’s even more critical that they have one pharmacist who is familiar with and overseeing their entire medication regimen.”

Norton also suggested that there may not be much interest in Pfizer’s home delivery option, citing research showing that fewer than 2% of patients will choose mail order if the service does not offer financial incentives, such as lower copays. “With so few patients voluntarily opting to use mail order, it begs the question: Why offer it? Why encourage patients to bypass their health care provider in favor of their mail carrier?” Norton asked. NCPA representatives intend to reach out to Pfizer to express their concerns.

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