Viagra deaths alert

Fears over men buying drug on the internet as 73 fatalities are revealed

Daily Mail, UK, Feb 21, 2001

VIAGRA was at the centre of new health fears yesterday after it was linked to 73 deaths in less than three years.

Doctors alerted the Government’s Medicines Control Agency to the fatalities, which are included in 823 reports of adverse reactions to the impotence drug. The figures emerged as both the Department of Health and Viagra manufacturer Pfizer admitted Internet availability and a growing black market for the drug may be leading men to risk their health.

It is also feared that as well as those who want it for ‘recreational use’, men who are genuinely impotent may be driven by NHS rationing to buy it on the black market at 5 a time, or to try to mislead GPs.

The tablets - which revive the sex lives of impotent men - are ruled out of bounds for those with serious heart conditions or those taking nitrate medicines for angina.

Nitrates work by lowering blood pressure, and so does Viagra - meaning that pressure may drop to fatal levels, with not enough blood reaching the heart as a result.

Sixty-four of the deaths, which have happened since Viagra was launched in Britain in September 1998, were related to heart problems. Three men committed suicide while taking Viagra, one died of liver failure, one had a stroke and there were four fatal brain haemorrhages.

Two of the 73 who died had been taking nitrate medicines as well asVlagra. It is not known if any of the men had bought the drug privately or had misled their doctors about their medical histories.

Despite the deaths, Pfizer insists the drug is safe. Independent studies have proved the risk of heart problems is similar in men not taking the medication, it said.

Only 20 per cent of Britain’s estimated two million impotence sufferers can get Viagra on the NHS because of rationing which limits it to those with kidney failure, cancer, diabetes or pelvic injury.

However, ministers are expected to relax the rules to let doctors prescribe it to men whose impotence is linked to mental or emotional distress.

The current rules to limit supply were Introduced amid fears that massive demand would lead to a 1 billon NHS bill.

Latest figures reveal that GPs write 300,000 NHS prescriptions for the drug each year, but thousands more are likely to be written by private doctors.

Last night, the Department of Health said it could see no reason to withdraw the drug. The heart attacks could have been caused by ‘an underlying condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure’.

But a spokesman it Is worried about men buying the drug on the Internet without monitoring by a health professional.