Sunday 21 December 2014

The rise and rise of Generation Viagra

This month Viagra loses its patent protection. So what next for the little blue pill and its lookalikes? Chrissie Russell reports

Hollywood explored the little blue pills in the film Love and Other Drugs.

It used to be that whatever happened behind closed doors stayed there. Particularly if those doors were to the bedroom and what was happening was in fact not happening.

Male impotence might have been whispered about between housewives familiar with 'brewer's droop', but in general the best approach was to roll over and go to sleep.

Then along came Viagra.

In 1989 Pfizer scientists synthesised sildenafil citrate, a compound they hoped could be useful in treating high blood pressure and angina.

However, it swiftly became apparent the drug's strengths lay in treating other areas. In 1998, the drug was approved by the FDA as the first oral treatment for erectile dysfunction and Viagra's makers saw their research work rewarded with a Nobel Prize.

Suddenly Erectile Dysfunction (ED) was dragged out of the bedroom and into the spotlight. With a solution now available it seemed men were more willing to admit that a problem existed.

LAS VEGAS - JULY 18:  (L-R) Melissa Taylor, television personality and model Holly Madison, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, Crystal Harris and Anna Berglund appear in Madison's dressing room after Hefner and his friends attended the adult production, "PEEPSHOW" starring Madison at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino July 18, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for BASE Entertainment)
Hugh Hefner has called Viagra 'God's little helper'.

A cohort of celebrities led the way, flying the flag for Viagra. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner dubbed the drug "God's little helper" while Michael Douglas, married to Catherine Zeta Jones – 25 years his junior – hailed it as "a wonderful enhancement . . . that can make us all feel younger".

Even ageing lothario Jack Nicholson confessed to popping an occasional pill should the circumstances require it, explaining: "I like to date a nice range of women each year, but I only use Viagra when I am with more than one."

On this side of the pond, horse trainer Peter 'Racy' Casey left RTÉ pundit Tracey Piggott red-faced after an explicit revelation about how he intended to celebrate his good form later with this wife.

"If I win we are going to have sex twice," the 77-year-old announced to reporters. "I will need six Viagra for that."

In a later interview he added that he'd had problems hiding his pills from envious, light-fingered chums.

"I had a mate who stole a few off me and he went around causing ructions," he revealed. "A few of the boys want to know my secret but you have to keep these things safe."

There have even been films made about the blockbuster drug with Jake Gyllenhaal staring as a Viagra salesman in Love and Other Drugs and John Lynch appearing in the Irish-made comedy Hard Times about a group of pals who hijack a consignment of blue pills in the hope of flogging them on the black market and making a fortune.

The increase in publicity surrounding Viagra has corresponded with a rise in men coming forward to seek treatment.

The rise in demand meant that last year the cost of dispensing Viagra in Ireland set the HSE back €3.5m, with the highest proportion of usage concentrated in the Dublin South area.

With annual sales of €1.75bn, Viagra is one of the world's best-selling drugs, but all that could be set to change.

This month, Viagra loses its patent protection, meaning that, for the first time, rival manufacturers will be legally able to produce copies under the drug's chemical name, sildenafil. In the past, blackmarket copycats have been a problem for Pfizer and the company recently estimated that up to 80pc of 'Viagra' sold online was counterfeit, prompting them to launch an online shop for customers with prescriptions.

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