by Bob Roehr
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has banned pharmaceutical company representatives from Pfizer from its offices, as part of its ongoing feud with the company over promotion of the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. The announcement came on Feb. 8.
“After repeated attempts to engage Pfizer on the negative impact of its marketing and advertising strategy and tactics…there has been no recognition by your organization of the documented correlation between Viagra and the recent rise in sexually transmitted diseases and HIV in men who have sex with men,” AHF wrote in a letter to the company.
AHF had charged the company with “promoting Viagra as a party drug…leading to more infections with sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV,” in a lawsuit that it filed in Los Angeles on Jan. 22. It wants the company to end those ads, begin an education campaign on the responsible use of Viagra, and pay an unspecified sum to AHF to help care for people infected with HIV.
“Pfizer does not promote Viagra for recreational use,” the company said in a written statement released when the lawsuit was filed, “Which is why we encourage men with erectile dysfunction to see their doctor for a proper diagnosis and to discuss symptoms, treatment options, and safe sexual practices.”
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, in a paper published in the February issue of the America Journal of Medicine,18 million American men age 20 and older experience erectile dysfunction. That translated to 18% of the adult male population.
The study defined erectile dysfunction as sometimes or never being able to get and keep an erection. It did not include those men who said they are always or almost always able to get and keep an erection. The risk of dysfunction increases with age and with many diseases.
The lawsuit kicked off a vigorous discussion online among AIDS activists.
“I seriously doubt that Pfizer’s ad campaign is a major factor in the widespread recreational use of Viagra in conjunction with crystal meth,” said Los Angeles activist Walt Senterfitt. “Word spread quickly years ago among those who had an interest in trying this form of Viagra plus meth ‘combination therapy’ long before the ‘Pfizer Riser’ ads spread beyond the Bob Dole generation.”
“Both Michael Weinstein and Jeff Klausner [director of STD prevention and control services for the city of San Francisco] seem to continuously be waging anti-sex and anti-gay sex campaigns. Neither man ever appears to endorse sex, pure pleasurable and recreational liaisons, as healthy activities for everyone, including gay men and people with AIDS,” said San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis.
“AHF’s lawsuit against Pfizer, which has the strong backing of Klausner, is one more effort that stigmatizes all sex in general, and the sex lives of gays and people with AIDS in particular. They might consider recognizing how Viagra has safely helped PWAs on AIDS cocktails suffering erectile problems regain healthy sex lives again,” added Petrelis.
Al Benson wrote online in POZ, “Many more gay men’s sexual functioning is affected by HIV medication, HIV illnesses, and by antigay stigma them by meth use. [AHF’s Michael] Weinstein knows this but doesn’t care because he also knows that in the current sexually repressive climate he can get mileage and money by raising the demons of gay men having sex and spreading AIDS. So Weinstein feels that his anti-Viagra campaign will create a perfect storm for his aggrandizement and enrichment.”
Meanwhile in Britain, Boots, the leading drugstore chain, is starting a pilot program to make access to Viagra easier. Potential customers between 30 and 65 can ask to see a pharmacist, give a medical history, have their blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels tested, and immediately purchase four pills for the equivalent of about $100 at current exchange rates. They must see a physician before the prescription is renewed. The program kicked off on Valentine’s Day.