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Viagra Once-Weekly Not Enough, UK Researchers Say

Mar 14, 2003
By Patricia Reaney

One pill a week of Viagra is not enough for many British men, according to researchers.

British men, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 44, tend to have sex more frequently according to a national survey, but the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) has been recommending one little blue pill a week for patients suffering from impotence.

"Certainly for the young patients, those in their 40s, once a week wouldn't be enough," Adrian Cook, a researcher at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London, told Reuters.

"The policy needs to be revisited and the evidence needs to be looked at more closely," he added.

The government introduced the restriction on Viagra, which is made by the American drug giant Pfizer Inc, after it was launched in Britain because it feared costs would soar if it was available on demand.

Free prescriptions were limited to men suffering from prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, kidney failure and other serious conditions.

Pfizer went to court to make the drug more widely available by having the restriction declared unlawful but was unsuccessful.

Cook and his colleagues, in a letter published in the British Medical Journal, urged the government to reconsider its policy. They said their analysis of data from the national sexual survey shows that the prescribing policy is unjust and is not satisfactory for many men.

"It discriminates in two ways. It identifies certain groups who are eligible for treatment and that is quite an arbitrary grouping. There is also the frequency type of rationing and that is not evidence based. It certainly mitigates against the younger sufferers," Cook said.

The Department of Health said it advises doctors that one treatment a week will be appropriate for most patients, but doctors can exercise their own judgement and prescribe more.

"The current system was introduced in 1999 to get a balance between treating men with impotence and protecting NHS resources to deal with other priorities including those with cancer, heart disease and mental health problems," it said in a statement.

An estimated 2.3 million men in Britain suffer from impotence, or erectile dysfunction, but only about 10 percent receive treatment, according the Impotence Association.

Patients who do not qualify to receive the drug on the NHS can get it prescribed through private doctors.

Two other anti-impotence drugs, Eli Lilly & Co's Cialis and Levitra from Bayer AG and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, have also been launched in Britain. All the drugs are similarly priced at 19.34 pounds ($30.86) for a pack of four tablets.

BMJ 2003;326:598.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd