No more faking it

Pfizer will now sell you Viagra directly to get around the counterfeiters

May 7, 2013
Obsession
How We Buy
May 7, 2013

Like cat videos, spam that advertises quick and embarrassment-free Viagra purchases has become an internet cliché. But while cat videos will live on, Pfizer, maker of the magic blue pill, thinks it can fight back against counterfeit Viagra. Yesterday, it launched Viagra.com “to meet the needs of consumers who are increasingly going online to purchase prescription medications,” the company said in a statement.

The website is about more than saving men the embarrassment of buying Viagra in person.

America’s National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a standards body, surveyed 10,000 Viagra-selling websites and found that 97% of them did not appear legitimate. Some may just be sugar tablets, but other, more toxic substances such as paint and wax also find their way into forged medicine. Pfizer says 80% of the pills it bought from 22 of the top websites that appear in a search for “buy Viagra” were fake.

There are larger implications for the drug market. Drugmakers typically do not deal directly with drug consumers. Instead, they sell through middlemen, pharmacies and doctors. If successful, Pfizer’s effort to reclaim market share from counterfeiters could change the way drug companies do business.

The move parallels efforts in other industries to stamp out online piracy, which mostly have proven fruitless. Movie studios, record labels and software developers have dabbled in cheap and easy alternatives to illegal operators. A Netflix executive recently admitted that “when we launch in a territory the Bittorrent [internet file sharing] traffic drops as the Netflix traffic grows.” Pfizer will be hoping that the same applies to Viagra, which earned $2 billion in revenue last year. And, in a move befitting any good drug salesman, it is offering the first few doses free.

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