Health

Internet Viagra sales prove difficult to stop

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 12:00am

The trading of Viagra over the Internet has thwarted Customs officials, who have seized hundreds of tablets sent through the post so far this year but have yet to make a single arrest for the offence.


The latest seizure involved 60 tablets of the anti-impotence pills brought in by express parcel from the United States on Friday.


'This is the sixth case of the illegal importation of Viagra detected by Customs officers at the airport command this year,' a spokesman said.


A total of 200 Viagra tablets have been intercepted by airport Customs officers so far this year. It is believed that most of these tablets were ordered through the Internet, but gathering evidence against those who ordered them was difficult, the spokesman said.


Those convicted of importing medicine without a licence face a maximum fine of $500,000 and two years' jail.


Dr Andrew Yip Wai-chun, a consultant urologist at Kwong Wah Hospital, said he was not surprised at the existence of Internet trading in Viagra. He said there was a black market for the drug in Hong Kong.


'Obviously we need to tighten controls on this. There is a loophole . . . in that Internet medicine bypasses the usual dispensing system. I urge the Government to look at it critically,' he said.


The underground market was being fed by myths that Viagra was an aphrodisiac, he said. 'If a normal healthy man takes Viagra, nothing special will happen. He won't become a superman,' he said.


He warned the public of health consequences, especially the psychological effects on men suffering from erectile dysfunction who might have been sold fake or substandard pills.


Dr Yip said patients had come to him complaining that Viagra did not work after they had bought pills on the black market, or from dispensaries who sold them to people without prescriptions.


The pills have been available under doctors' prescription in Hong Kong since February 1998.


They are intended to treat a specific medical condition - erectile dysfunction - which must be diagnosed by a doctor. They should not be used by patients taking nitrate drugs, because of the risk of low blood pressure.


Patients also have to be taught how to take the medicine properly as it works by enhancing sexual stimulation. Dr Yip also said 80 per cent of erectile dysfunction was symptomatic of an underlying disease, which also needed to be treated.


About 10 per cent of Hong Kong's men, or 200,000, are estimated to suffer from erectile dysfunction.


In August last year, Customs officers seized 300 Viagra tablets worth $24,000 and arrested a man at Lowu checkpoint. The previous month, police seized 11,000 Viagra tablets worth about $1.66 million from a cyclist in the Sha Tau Kok restricted area.