Viagra prescriptions almost triple in a decade

According to an NHS Digital report, prescriptions of the erectile dysfunction drug, sildenafil, have almost tripled in the past decade. 

Viagra (sildenafil) pills

The number of items prescribed in the community in England for the erectile dysfunction drug sildenafil has nearly tripled in a decade, according to official figures from NHS Digital.

There were 2,958,199 prescription items for sildenafil in 2016, compared with 1,042,431 in 2006.

Prescription items rose by 43% between 2014 and 2015, but slowed down between 2015 and 2016 when the increase was 16%, the data confirm.

The figures come from the ‘Prescriptions dispensed in the community — England, 2006 to 2016 report’, published by NHS Digital on 29 June 2017.

Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard, responded to the statistics saying: “Awareness of sildenafil has certainly increased over the last decade. It has also come ‘off licence’, making it cheaper. Both factors may account for some of the increase in prescriptions over the last few years.

“But this increase in prescribing could also indicate significantly reduced stigma of discussing erectile dysfunction, and so, more men who suffer from the condition are feeling comfortable enough to visit their GP or another healthcare professional for medical assistance. Erectile dysfunction, as well as being a physical condition, can also have a very real effect on our patients’ mental health — so this is a good thing.”

She also said she believed that the reduction in the rate of increase between 2015 and 2016 might have indicated that the drug was becoming more available online, and she reiterated the risks of buying medicines online from unregulated websites.

The pharmacy regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council, runs a voluntary internet pharmacy logo scheme, which confirms whether a site is registered with the regulator and adheres to its professional standards.

The latest NHS Digital figures emerged just months after the UK’s drug safety watchdog launched a consultation on its proposals to reclassify sildenafil from a prescription-only to a pharmacy (P) medicine, which meant it would be available without a prescription following the advice of a pharmacist.

That proposal — which would apply to 50mg tablets — reflected the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) thinking that the tablets could be safely made available without a prescription and might prevent men turning to unregulated online sites to obtain their supplies.

The consultation ran until 18 April 2017. A decision is expected at a later date.

Last updated
Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, August 2017;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20203430