Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Men Wait for Viagra Invasion




If you had the choice of dying from frustration or love, what would you pick?


That is the problem posed for some Russian men by the release of Viagra, the impotence drug that has created a stir in the United States and is about to be launched here.


The drug has been proven to cure what scientists primly describe as "erectile dysfunctions" but it has a catch: It can cause heart failure in older men with a history of heart or neurological disease.


The U.S. drug company Pfizer, which makes the drug, was careful to warn Russian men of the risks at a news conference Tuesday announcing the Russian Health Ministry's July 22 decision to license the drug.


But Pfizer and Russian health officials were confident that the health risks will not deter Russian men when Viagra reaches Russian pharmacies at the end of October.


"The cult of phallus is experiencing a renaissance today," said Pyotr Shcheplev, a urology professor at the Semashko Medical Institute.


Robert Marshall, head of the Russian office for Pfizer, said that a company study concluded that about 4 million men above the age of 35, about 14 percent of the total, suffered from impotence and were potential customers, Reuters reported.


Old age is a major cause of impotence but less so in Russia, where men typically die younger than in many developed countries. The main reasons for impotence here are rooted in unhealthy lifestyles.


Smoking high-tar cigarettes, heavy drinking and obesity, combined with high rates of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and high blood pressure place Russian men at the top of the risk list.


Many Russian men are already using Viagra bought on the black market. Nikolai Lopatkin, director of the Urology Institute of the Russian Academy for Medical Science, said Viagra appeared on the Russian black market immediately after the "blue pill" boom swept the world. Some private clinics have been advertising impotence treatment with the illegally imported tablet.


On the black market, the drug costs up to $250 per pill, compared to the official price Pfizer is proposing of $12. But experts speculated that some embarrassed men may prefer to buy Viagra on the black market rather than risk the exposure of visiting a doctor to get a prescription.


Even $12 per tablet will be beyond the reach of many Russian men, especially the pensioners who are Viagra's main target group. However, the state is not planning to subsidize the price of the pill, as is the case in Spain, health officials said.


"I understand the New Russians will have enough money [for Viagra], and they have the largest number of impotent men after all their banya sessions," said Lopatkin.


Known generically as sildenafil citrate, Viagra was invented accidentally when the manufacturer, Pfizer Inc. was testing a new heart medicine. Viagra enhances the body's natural system for creating an erection, allowing the smooth muscles of the penis to relax and in turn allowing the organ to fill with blood. The drug has been effective for 70 percent of men in clinical trials.


But mixing Viagra with heart medicine, particularly nitroglycerine, is highly dangerous, making the blood pressure drop abruptly. Strong doses of alcohol and any narcotics with Viagra may lead to death, too.


So far, Viagra has only been licensed in Brazil, Canada, Switzerland and the United States.


The "blue pill" raises an array of social responsibility issues new to Russia. One of them is unprescribed Viagra use by healthy young men who may want to improve their sexual performance.


"We are talking about a medication and not a doping," said Dmitry Pushkar, an urology professor at the Semashko Medical Institute.


Lopatkin downplayed the extent of impotence in Russia, claiming it was less of a problem here than in the United States but providing no figures.


Men on Moscow's streets appeared to share his bravado. "Slavic men have always been known for strong potency ... it's not accidental that they call us [in the West] the Russian bears," said Yury Klimenko, 50, a psychologist, said he doesn't have problems yet. "But bad food, water, air and especially stress do destroy it. An impotent person cannot be a creative person."


Vladimir Konovalov, 46, who sells newspapers near Belorussky train station, was proud of his masculinity. "I'd rather eat raw eggs than take pills. But the main thing is the right woman," he said. "My advice to those who can't [have sex without Viagra] -- go and hang yourselves."