MANILA, July 31, 2005
 (STAR) The popularity of sildenafil citrate, commonly known as Viagra, the first medicine developed for erectile dysfunction, has made it a prime target of drug counterfeiters. It is found to be one of the most copied medicines in the world and has become widely available through various channels to consumers.

In a recent US survey involving 676 men aged 35 and above, 20 percent of men who purchase ED medications buy them online, and two-thirds don’t check to see if the website they are purchasing from is legitimate.

Only 38 percent of all men surveyed believe it is essential to have a doctor’s prescription in order to purchase Viagra.

Fake sildenafil citrate sold through the Internet or found in stores other than licensed drug stores poses safety and financial risks to consumers.

There’s a high probability that these fake drugs were manufactured in unregulated factories or backrooms that do not adhere to the same rigorous standards for pharmaceutical manufacturing required by regulatory authorities.

In addition, such illegal copies may be contaminated, stored improperly, outdated, may not work as claimed, contain potentially dangerous ingredients or may have no effect at all.

The manufacturer of the medicine continues to explore and implement new technological developments to deter counterfeiting. It also uses special packaging and printing techniques that make counterfeiting both more difficult to accomplish and easier to spot.

It has also taken legal action against dozens of illegitimate online "pharmacies." It is working with wholesalers, the pharmacy community, and all regulatory and law enforcement agencies to block sales of counterfeit Viagra and illegal versions of the erectile dysfunction medication.

Spotting a fake Viagra, and other fake medicines for that matter, can be daunting because by mere appearance, counterfeit medicines cannot easily be distinguished from the genuine ones.

Physicians who suspect that their patients may be taking counterfeit Viagra should alert the Bureau of Food and Drugs for proper action.

Patients are encouraged to buy Viagra and other medicines only from licensed outlets. Buying from unlicensed outlets not only endangers their health but will also be a waste of resources.

"Some counterfeit drugs are packaged so professionally, even holograms can be copied," said Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, a pharmacologist and former deputy director of the Bureau of Food and Drugs.

Although fake and real medicines may look the same to most consumers, there is more to it than meets the eye. Counterfeit medicines may contain no active ingredients or the active ingredients are less than what is required. Because of this, counterfeit medicines have been identified as one of the causes of "therapeutic failure."

Therapeutic failure happens when a prescribed medicine does not work. "If the patient is not getting well or the disease is worsening despite treatment, a physician can look into counterfeit medicines as a possible source of the problem," Hartigan-Go said. "The doctor may be in the best position to know whether or not a patient is responding to the drug."

The problem of counterfeit medicines is a major concern worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the value of this illegal trade has reached $35 billion. In Asia, WHO believes that 10 percent of all drugs in the market are fake.

This health information is brought by Pfizer, a global, research-based healthcare company that discovers, develops, manufactures and markets effective and innovative medicines for humans and animals, and many of the best-known consumer products.

In 2004, Pfizer, the world’s largest private biomedical research organization, invested more than $7.5 billion to find cures to help preserve, protect and promote the quality of life of people all over the world.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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