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Young men add Viagra to their drug arsenal
By Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY
Viagra, the anti-impotence drug nearing its third birthday, is being used as a “thrill pill.” It has become a party drug sold on college campuses and taken at clubs and rave parties where it is often downed in a life-threatening combination with street drugs, concerned experts say.
The experimentation is not cheap: Young Viagra abusers are paying $25 to $30 a pill on the black market.
“The biggest problem with Viagra is that it is being abused by young people,” says New York psychologist and sex therapist Judy Kuriansky. “They are getting it off the Net, buying it in parks and on school campuses. They think they will be really macho and have erections that last forever.”
Even junior high school students “have the misconception that Viagra is an aphrodisiac, a party drug,” says Coral Gables, Fla. sexologist Marilyn Volker. “Any kind of drug can find its way to all sorts of teens or young people.”
Healthy young college students won’t benefit from Viagra, although they may experience some kind of “placebo effect” that makes them believe the little blue diamond is a magic pill, Kuriansky says.
“Young men have good erections, anyway. It’s like pouring more water into a glass already full of water,” says Annette Owens, a sex therapist in Charlottesville, Va. and member of the American Council of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
A much bigger worry is the use of Viagra on the club and rave scenes, at parties favored by the young. Viagra is being combined with illegal drugs including cocaine, amphetamines and the designer drug Ecstasy, experts say.
One British study found that Viagra was being used as a recreational drug in British nightclubs within weeks of its introduction there in September 1998. A study reported last summer in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported on health risks at raves, including using Viagra with Ecstasy.
The biggest danger is combining “poppers,” or amyl nitrate, and Viagra, experts say. Both drugs dilate blood vessels, which can result in a sudden drop in blood pressure and cause a heart attack or stroke. (Viagra is not prescribed for patients taking nitrates for certain heart conditions.) “Viagra and nitrates are NEVER to be used together,” Volker says. “People have died from doing that.”
Numerous deaths have been reported from the use of poppers plus Viagra, says Marshall Forstein, medical director of the Mental Health and Addiction Services at Fenway Community Health Center in Boston. Viagra is an excellent drug when it is used appropriately, he says. “Combined with other drugs, it can be deadly.”
Forstein cautions that drugs bought on the black market are often impure. “People use these drugs without realizing some come with additives. Viagra bought over the Internet or brought in from overseas, these products are not reputable.”
Ecstasy is know as a “hug pill.” It increases desire, but it also decreases sexual performance. “Users may be trying to overcome the Ecstasy with Viagra,” says Wilkie Wilson, professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical Center and co-author of Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy. The drug has been linked to seizures and death.
Wilson does not pinpoint additional dangers from combining Ecstasy and Viagra, but says there is no real data on “how they interact at the metabolic level.” And he cautions, “There is always a potential problem when you mix drugs.”
Volker describes a syndrome: “Students often combine these drugs with alcohol, which turns up the sex center. But too much alcohol becomes a depressant. Then they use speed or Ecstasy to keep the party going,” and possibly then Viagra. “The body can’t maintain all this, and it crashes.”
James Peloquen, a psychiatrist at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, believes there is an increase in young Viagra abusers. Peloquen has been told by young men that Viagra cocktails have enabled them to have sex “for four or five hours, with four or five orgasms.” He believes them. “Young men can do such things.”
One of the troubling effects of these drugs is how they influence the behavior of the young. “People do stupid things when they get high,” Peloquen says. “You end up with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis B and HIV. Judgment is impaired, and you go home with somebody you should not.”
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Can You Take Viagra When Young
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Viagra: How Young Is Too Young?
From the WebMD Archives
Rafael Palmeiro seems an unlikely Viagra pitchman. The Texas Rangers slugger is only 37 and won’t admit to having erection problems, yet he recently agreed to appear in ads promoting the drug. The deal has made people wonder whether Palmeiro really represents men with erectile dysfunction. or whether Pfizer, the company that makes Viagra, wants to persuade young men to try it for fun.
It’s true that erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, but many potential Viagra users are hardly senior citizens: About 40% of 40-year-old men in the U.S. have some degree of erectile dysfunction. Most Viagra users today, according to Pfizer, are in their early to mid 50s. So it makes sense that the company would want to reach more men around Palmeiro’s age.
Urologist Myron Murdock, medical director of the Impotence Institute of America, says these men are likely to use Viagra because sexual performance is a high priority for them.
A younger man, Murdock says, “wants his V-12 Jaguar working just perfectly,” whereas an elderly gent may be content with less dependable erections. What’s more, the sexual partners of younger men “are more demanding of their performance,” Murdock says.
Pfizer denies that it’s promoting Viagra for recreational use. “We’ve consistently opposed that,” says spokesman Geoff Cook. Nevertheless, Murdock says it’s fine to pop the little blue pill to “optimize” your sexual performance.
We assume all young men have normal sexual functioning, “but they’re really not normal,” Murdock says. Hardening of the arteries. which restricts blood flow to the penis. can begin during the teen years, so that by the time a man is in his 20s, his ability to get and keep an erection has already begun to decline. Murdock says many men who seek Viagra for recreational use actually have minor erectile dysfunction.
There’s also some evidence that Viagra can shorten the time it takes a man to recover after sex and be ready for another round. This is called the “refractory period.” Normally it lasts 20 minutes or longer. One study, published in the journal Human Reproduction in January 2000, found that Viagra shortened the refractory period by about 10 minutes in healthy men .
What Viagra cannot do is increase your sexual appetite or make you ejaculate if you have problems reaching orgasm. Ira Sharlip, urologist in San Francisco, says you shouldn’t expect your erections to reach staggering new proportions, either. “I don’t believe that Viagra can increase an erection beyond 100% of normal,” he says.
“Viagra is a super-safe drug,” Murdock says, assuming you have a healthy heart and don’t take nitrates.
Nitrates include nitroglycerin — a drug that many men take for chest pain from heart disease — and “poppers.” Poppers are little vials of amyl or butyl nitrate. Breaking the vial releases nitrate vapor, which gives a brief high when inhaled. It’s most often used to enhance sexual pleasure, and mostly by gay men. Poppers are not all that safe to use on their own, and they’re especially dangerous when you’re on Viagra.
Nitrates widen blood vessels, and Viagra increases that effect. Mixing the two can cause your blood pressure to drop drastically. A sudden drop in blood pressure can make you pass out, and you may die if your blood pressure stays too low for too long.
Preservatives like sodium nitrate — found in processed food — do not cause this problem, so you won’t die from eating a hot dog while on Viagra. Even so, it’s best to take it on an empty stomach. That way, the drug absorbs into your bloodstream faster. Wine may contain nitrates, but not the kind that cause problems with Viagra. It’s fine to play some Marvin Gaye on the stereo and sip a glass of Chardonnay, if that’s what puts you in the mood.
Although you may be tempted to order Viagra discreetly from one of the hundreds of Web sites that sell it, don’t. “It’s bad medicine,” Murdock says. You really must bring your doctor into your sex life if you want to use Viagra.
When you buy from an online pharmacy, you just have to answer some health questions before you proceed to the checkout page. If you answer honestly — and that might be a big “if” for those determined to get what they want — the questionnaire may catch some possible complications. But the pharmacists who fill your order don’t know your medical history, and no questionnaire can diagnose the root cause of your problem. Erectile dysfunction can have serious underlying causes, like diabetes. heart disease. liver disease, or thyroid disease.
Cook says Pfizer is opposed to Internet Viagra sales. “Our goal with any of our marketing is simply to reach men and encourage them to see a doctor,” he says.
It seems that Viagra can make sex better for women, too. Like the penis. the clitoris is erectile tissue — spongy tissue that becomes engorged with blood during sexual excitement. By increasing blood flow to the clitoris, Viagra may heighten a woman’s sensation and arousal. It also seems to increase vaginal lubrication.
Murdock says many couples like to heat things up by splitting a dose of Viagra. “It’s an interesting sexual situation,” he says. The recommended dosage for men is up to 100 milligrams per day, and that seems to be just as safe for women. Young people may get results from a smaller dose: As little as 25 mg may be enough.
The FDA has not approved Viagra for women, but Murdock says, “It’s just a matter of time.” He says he and other doctors who specialize in sexual medicine prescribe it to women, which is perfectly legal. Doctors are allowed to use their best judgment. Drug companies, however, can’t advertise any use that isn’t FDA-approved.
The studies being done to test Viagra’s safety and effectiveness in women have shown good results so far. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Cook says.
Martin F. Downs is a health writer in New York City. He was formerly an editor at CBS HealthWatch. He has also written for Health.com, Salon.com, and POZ magazine and is the editor of the Alicubi Journal (alicubi.com).
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