Source Pravda.Ru

British pharmacy to supply Viagra over the counter to the dismay of doctors

A cute gimmick timed for Valentine's Day, or a dangerous medical precedent?

Britain's biggest pharmacy, Boots, will start selling Viagra over the counter at some of its chains on Feb. 14 a day also designated in Britain as National Impotence Day.

But doctors are warning of the potential hazards of giving the sex-enhancing drug to men especially those with underlying medical complications.

"This sets a very bad precedent and should not be condoned," Dr. Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert at New York University Medical Center, said Monday. "This system is basically prescribing medication without doctors."

Under the scheme, men aged between 30 and 65 who want the impotence-fighting drug will have a one-hour consultation with a specially trained pharmacist. The pharmacist will take their medical history and check blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.

If no medical red flags are raised, the men can buy four Viagra pills for 50 pounds (US$97). For a refill, men will then have to see a private doctor for a medical examination.

"We're increasing access to Viagra for men who may be too embarrassed to talk about it with their general physician," Clare Stafford, a Boots spokeswoman, said Monday.

But doctors fear the practice could lead to major health problems being overlooked and set a bad precedent for other countries. In many cases, sexual dysfunction is an indicator of more significant underlying disease, such as heart failure or diabetes.

Viagra readily available on the Internet without prescription was developed by Pfizer Inc. in 1996. It is one of the world's top-selling drugs but is classified as a prescription drug worldwide. Though it is a safe and effective drug, possible rare side effects include vision impairment, heart problems and stroke.

Patrons at bar in Central London, however, were largely sympathetic to the idea.

"It's fair play," said Jason Whelan, 30, who was sharing a round of beers with some friends. He was quick to say he didn't need the drug yet.

"Come later in life, there's nothing wrong with it," he said.

Doctors believe the system might lead patients to believe that a quick pharmaceutical fix is just as effective as seeing a physician. "There is more to solving sex problems than giving men Viagra," said Dr. David Ralph, a consultant urologist at University College London.

By circumventing the need for doctors, Ralph said the scheme would undermine the potential for physicians to provide a comprehensive diagnosis, which might even pick up health problems of the mens' sexual partners. "If men can just get Viagra at the pharmacy, we are losing the chance to do proper health screening," he said.

In recent years, Boots has introduced similar initiatives with other drugs such as those for weight loss, hair retention, and the "morning after" pill.

But according to the regulations of the European Medicines Agency, which supervises the use of medicines in Europe, Viagra should be available to men only under medical guidance, reports AP.

"Our stance is clear: Viagra is a prescription drug," said Monika Bernstetter, an EMEA press officer. "But it's up to member states how they implement prescriptions."

Boots' initial pilot program at three Manchester-based branches is expected to last six months. The pharmacy will then consider whether to expand it to other stores.

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