The Viagra Craze

A pill to cure impotence? Afflicted men are saying Yesss! But is this the end of sex as we know it?

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Besides its phony name, funny shape and unappetizing color, what's not to like about Viagra, the new pill that conquers impotence? Could there be a product more tailored to the easy-solution-loving, sexually insecure American psyche than this one? The drug, manufactured by Pfizer, went on sale three weeks ago, finally giving talk-show hosts something other than Bill Clinton and Pamela Lee to crack smarmy jokes about.

Spurred, perhaps, by just that sort of publicity, would-be patients have been besieging urologists' offices and sex clinics--men both genuinely dysfunctional and merely dissatisfied, skulking around in hopes of achieving "better" erections through chemistry. Already, a kind of Viagra connoisseurship is beginning to take hold. "The hundreds are absolutely incredible," says a very satisfied user, referring to the drug's 100-mg maximum-strength dosage, "and the effect lasts through the following morning." What else can one say but Vrooom! Cheap gas, strong economy, erection pills--what a country! What a time to be alive!

"We've always been waiting for the magic bullet," says Dr. Fernando Borges of the Florida Impotency Center in St. Petersburg, where he has been working with sexually dysfunctional patients for 21 years. "This," he says, "is pretty close to the magic bullet." The very day Viagra became available, Dr. John Stripling, an Atlanta urologist, churned out 300 prescriptions with the help of a rubber stamp he had had the foresight to purchase. At the Urology Health Center in New Port Richey, Fla., which participated in the drug's clinical trials, the waiting time to see a doctor for a Viagra consultation is a month. Not that this has stopped motivated patients. "We've been inundated with emergencies," says Dr. Ramon Perez. "Pain in the kidney. Blood in the urine. But when they get in here, they just want to ask us about Viagra. It's amazing. These people have been impotent for three years, and they cannot wait another few days."

"It's the fastest takeoff of a new drug that I've ever seen, and I've been in this business for 27 years," says Michael Podgurski, director of pharmacy at the 4,000-outlet Rite Aid drugstore chain. After a brief lag, the drug is now being prescribed at the rate of at least 10,000 scripts a day, outpacing such famous quick starters as the antidepressant Prozac (which went on to become one of the biggest-selling drugs in America) and the baldness remedy Rogaine (which has been something of a disappointment after its initial blaze of popularity).

The run on Viagra has been abetted by the likes of David Michael Thomas, a Milwaukee, Wis., osteopath who advertises his services on the Web at and who allegedly prescribed Viagra to some 700 patients after cursory $50 telephone examinations. At a license-suspension hearing in front of Wisconsin regulatory officials last week, Thomas agreed to stop the practice. (Normally a diagnosis of impotence involves a rigorous physical exam, blood tests and an extensive sexual history.) Other entrepreneurs have been offering prescriptions directly over the Internet.

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