The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates free AIDS treatment clinics in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia, is filing a lawsuit against Pfizer Inc., the manufacturer of the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, over its marketing tactics and advertising which they say are responsible for increases in the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. The lawsuit echoes the concerns of many health authorities who have been alarmed at the increasingly widespread recreational use of erectile dysfunctional drugs like Viagra, particularly in the gay community.
A number of recent studies (see references below) have linked the use of erectile dysfunction drugs - both independently and when used in combination with methamphetamine and other drugs like ecstasy - to an increased risk for STDs and HIV infection, particularly among men who have sex with men.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) says it is launching the lawsuit because of Pfizer's advertising and marketing tactics for Viagra, citing; "...the unjust and illegal conduct of drug maker Pfizer Inc., whose unlawful and deceptive marketing of its erectile dysfunction drug Viagra has caused an increase in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including but not limited to HIV/AIDS. Pfizer has engaged in and continues to engage in this conduct despite clear evidence of its illegality and harmful effects."
The AHF claim Pfizer's direct to consumer marketing of Viagra as a drug to enhance sexual performance is primarily aimed at men who don't necessarily suffer from a clinical diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. "We are filing this lawsuit today to seek an injunction against Pfizer to force it to stop advertising this prescription medication in the reckless manner it has been doing, and to require Pfizer to undertake an immediate public information/education campaign to both inform members of the general public as to its prior advertising practices, and to educate the public, and in particular, men who have sex with men, about the increased risks of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases associated with using Viagra," said AHF President, Michael Weinstein.
Central to the lawsuit is Pfizer's marketing and advertising, which the AHF says goes way beyond the FDA-approved indications for the drug. Analysts believe the newer, racier ads for Viagra were launched after other competing erectile drugs like Cialis and Levitra became available on the market. Last year, Pfizer ran a holiday-themed print ad campaign that the AHF believed promoted unsafe sex by encouraging the recreational use of Viagra on holidays such as New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl. The ads, seen in The Wall Street Journal and The L.A. Daily News, among others, depicted a handsome male grinning knowingly at the camera with taglines, such as "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" and "Be this Sunday's MVP." The FDA has previously forced Pfizer to withdraw some ads, which inferred that men could re-capture their youthful vigor and become a devil-horned "wild thing" by taking Viagra. "By marketing Viagra to men with 'mild' erectile dysfunction or as a way to 'improve your sex life' - as many of the ads state - Pfizer is selling the drug as a way to enhance sexual experience, not as a treatment for an illness," contends Tom Myers, AHF's General Counsel.
The AHF's lawsuit has attracted support from a number of high profile medicos working in the field. "As a public health professional, I am deeply troubled by what I consider to be the continued misleading and potentially 'off-label' direct-to-consumer marketing practices of Pfizer for this drug," said Jeffrey D. Klausner, the Director of STD Prevention and Control Services at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. "Several of our studies and those I reviewed for my research showed strong independent associations between the use of Viagra and increased sexual risk behavior, including an increased risk for diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV infection."
Among the remedies the AHF is seeking in its lawsuit against Pfizer are:
- An injunction prohibiting Pfizer from pursuing its allegedly unlawful and deceptive marketing of Viagra.
- An injunction requiring Pfizer to undertake an immediate public information/education campaign.
- An order requiring disgorgement of Pfizer's ill-gotten gains and to pay restitution to AHF of monies it has spent treating people infected with HIV or other STDs as a result of Pfizer's conduct.
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Based on material from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation