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Published: 22:02 BST, 27 March 2017 | Updated: 07:44 BST, 28 March 2017

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The little blue pill could be made available without prescription in the UK for the first time. Viagra, launched in 1998, is one of the most successful drugs ever developed and is taken by millions to treat erectile dysfunction

Viagra could be made available over the counter without a prescription for the first time, officials are to announce today.

Medical regulators will launch a three-week public consultation over plans to significantly expand access to the blockbuster drug.

Viagra is one of the most successful drugs ever developed, taken by millions of men since it was launched by Pfizer in 1998.

But in Britain getting access to the drug - or the many others like it now available - has only ever been available with a prescription from a doctor.

Erectile dysfunction affects 52 per cent of men aged between 40 and 70, and demand for the drug saw Pfizer's share price double within days of its launch.

But experts say 70 per cent men are too embarrassed to seek advice over the problem, stopping them from seeking help.

More seriously, many men turn to the internet to buy supplies of the drug, often buying illegal or counterfeit versions from overseas, putting them at risk of taking dangerous fakes.

Officials seized more than £11million of counterfeit and unlicensed erectile dysfunction treatments last year in Britain, triple the value seized the year before.

More than 90 per cent of all illegal unlicensed medications seized in Britain last year were for erectile problems.

The Department of Health and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last night confirmed a consultation proposing a relaxation of the rules, to last until April 18.

An MHRA spokesman said: 'We always aim to widen choice and access for medicines when it is safe to do so.

Many man source Viagra online leaving themselves open to the risk of illegal or dangerous counterfeit pills

'We have analysed the scientific evidence on safety and sought advice from the Commission on Human Medicines.'

'Involving the public and healthcare professionals is part of our standard regulatory process. We aim to involve the public and healthcare professionals in decisions that affect them.

He stressed: 'A final decision on whether to make sildenafil 50mg tablets available as a pharmacy medicine has yet to be made.

'We will carefully analyse the feedback from the public consultation before deciding how to proceed.'

If the response is positive, this will mean men will no longer need a GP's prescription to take the drug.

The new rules will limit sales to pharmacies, meaning men will be questioned about their health before they are sold the pills.

This means men will not be able to buy the drugs at corner shops, supermarkets or petrol stations - as is possible with aspirin and other drugs.

Sales are also to be limited to a box of eight 50mg pills of sildenafil - the generic name of Viagra. Such a pack currently costs the NHS £2.09, but the price may rise without a prescription.

The drug will also remain available on prescription, if a doctor decides it is needed.

But there are likely to be concerns men will be able to bulk buy packs by going from pharmacy to pharmacy, something that is not possible with a prescription.

Pros and cons of a wonder drug 

Developed as a blood pressure medication, Viagra's ability to relax blood vessels means that it also improves blood flow to the groin.

More recent research has found it halves the risk of men with type two diabetes dying with heart problems.

A team of scientists in London is also exploring whether it may prevent the onset of vascular dementia, by improving blood flow to the brain.

But it does not work for everyone, even as an erectile drug, and comes with the risk of side-effects including headaches, nausea and loss of vision. It is particularly dangerous if a man takes more than one pill at a time, and in extreme cases can cause a heart attack.

It will also mean a reduction in the oversight guaranteed by the prescription system.

This may well increase the risk of side effects, which are a particular risk if a man takes too much of the drug.

Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, headaches and even visual disturbances.

Serious cardiovascular events - including heart attacks - are sometimes reported.

A spokesman for the National Pharmacy Association said last night: 'It's better for people to have access via a pharmacy than to go online, where the safeguards against inappropriate use are fewer and the legitimacy of the supplier is harder to establish.

'Pharmacists are capable of doing the necessary assessment for the treatment and also identifying when the situation requires a fuller investigation by a sexual health specialist.'

Dr Berkeley Phillips, UK medical director of Pfizer said: 'The availability of pharmacist-supplied, non-prescription sildenafil could offer men a new and additional way to access a legitimate, long established, and well-studied treatment for erectile dysfunction.

'This could have further benefits as the condition may be an early warning sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as heart disease, which may otherwise go undetected.'

John Smith, chief executive of the PAGB, said: 'Self-care is an important part of a modern healthcare system and is vital for the long-term sustainability of the NHS.

'Erectile dysfunction is a condition that is easily self-diagnosed and suitable for self-treatment, with the support of a pharmacist.'

'We believe the highly skilled pharmacists working in pharmacies across the UK are ideally placed to support men with erectile dysfunction and identify whether sildenafil is a suitable treatment for their condition.'

Martin Astbury, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society,said he fully supports the move, adding: 'Discussing health problems with patients and advising on the benefits and risks of treatment options is an integral part of the role of a pharmacist. 

'[This] increases access to a medicine that has been proven to be safe and effective when used appropriately through over a decade of real world use by millions of men.'

Medical firms have long vied to come up with different ways to treat erectile dysfunction, knowing there are fortunes to be made for those who can come up with an effective treatment.

But Pfizer's domination of the market has persisted, with Viagra pills pulling in more than £1bn every year, even after its patent ended in 2013. 


Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4354650/Viagra-soon-sold-counter.html


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