Um, You’ve Actually Been Able to Order 100% Legit Viagra Online for Years

Two key facts are being glossed over with this week's big announcement from Pfizer: 1) It's been possible to buy guaranteed authentic Viagra online for years; and 2) Pfizer isn't really selling drugs directly to customers.

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News broke this week that for the first time ever, the drug manufacturer Pfizer has started selling Viagra directly to patients via the Internet. The pitch is that the new online sales channel will help men avoid the embarrassment of picking up the erectile dysfunction drug in person, as well as the possibility of buying counterfeit drugs from a sketchy website.

The Associated Press story on Pfizer’s news starts as follows:

Men who are bashful about needing help in the bedroom no longer have to go to the drugstore to buy that little blue pill.

While most of the coverage has focused on Pfizer’s innovation as a means to avoid embarrassment, two key facts are being glossed over: 1) It’s been possible to buy guaranteed authentic Viagra online for years; and 2) Pfizer isn’t really selling drugs directly to customers.

On Monday, Pfizer announced that it would start selling Viagra to customers via its site, Viagra.com. In actuality, the orders won’t being filled directly by Pfizer, but through drugstore giant CVS. What’s more, even before Pfizer’s announced partnership with CVS, it was (and still remains) possible to buy Viagra and most other prescription drugs without going to the drugstore.

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“With Viagra home delivery, men with ED can submit a new Viagra prescription or refill an existing one, estimate their co-pay in real-time, and check on the status of their order, from the privacy of their homes,” a Pfizer release explains. What’s being mostly overlooked is that men were able to get essentially these same services before Pfizer’s big announcement. Buying Viagra online is as simple as getting a valid prescription and placing an order through a legitimate pharmacy website, such as FamilyMeds.com, Walgreens.com, or, for that matter, CVS.com.

So the idea that Pfizer’s service is somehow breaking ground by allowing customers to order prescription drugs “from the privacy of their homes” is silly. The only thing new here is that the drug manufacturer is getting involved in sales to customers, though a middleman (CVS) is still involved.

Outside the embarrassment factor, Pfizer’s other selling point is that Viagra is its “most counterfeited medicine,” and that thousands of websites claiming to sell it are illegitimate and untrustworthy. There’s some substance to this argument, but Pfizer admits, somewhat obliquely, in its release that it’s pretty easy to avoid buying fake drugs. Beyond making a purchase via Viagra.com, “another way to buy safely is to look for other Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS),” the company states.

Dozens of respectable pharmacies with online services have VIPPS accreditation, which is awarded by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and ensures the operation complies with state and federal regulations. While the absence of VIPPS accreditation is one way to spot a potential counterfeiter, there are even more obvious signs—like websites that don’t require prescriptions, or that sell drugs at one-tenth the going rate at your local pharmacy.

Consumers should know better than to place orders from such vendors, but the proliferation of these sites indicates that many don’t. In a 2011 investigation, Pfizer placed orders at 22 websites that turned up in an online search for “buy Viagra.” Nearly 80% of the pills wound up being counterfeit, and many of them contained half or less than the active ingredient in Viagra.

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Pfizer’s move into sales won’t get rid of the counterfeiters. Those who want to take their chances with “Viagra” purchased on the cheap online will continue to have many opportunities to do so. Yet Pfizer’s new sales option doesn’t represent the only service available to a man who wants to purchase 100% legitimate Viagra in 100% non-embarrassing fashion (provided you’re not embarrassed when the delivery guy hands over your special package). At its heart, Pfizer’s pitch is about marketing. The company is trying to attract customers and take a larger share of drug sales by playing up the possibility that by ordering Viagra somewhere other than Viagra.com, you’re taking a gamble with a very sensitive body part.

Pfizer is also wooing customers by offering three free pills with the first order placed at Viagra.com, plus 30% off the second order. After that, men can expect to pay the full amount, roughly $25 a pop—which is about the same as what you’d pay at any other VIPPS-accredited online pharmacy.

10 comments
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