Unintended boost for maligned little red pill

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 2008, 12:00am

The blue pill is in danger of being replaced by the red pill.

For a long time, many people were under the impression that Chinese medicine, billed as the ultimate cure for male sexual dysfunction, was nothing more than snake oil.

But it turns out that some of these brands, sold in Shenzhen and some shops in Hong Kong, are actually the real thing, according to a warning by the Department of Health.

The department issued a statement this week after four elderly men, aged from 63 to 76, were admitted to hospital. Last week the patients all suffered from dizziness and sweating and, in one case, even loss of consciousness.

One was in stable condition yesterday, while the others had been released.

Laboratory tests of fluid samples from the men showed the presence of sildenafil, which is the active ingredient in Viagra.

The men, however, had not been taking the blue Viagra pill.

Instead, they took a much cheaper red pill sold under the mainland sex brand names of Kau Bin Wong and Sarm Bin Yuen.

'Urine samples of the men and their drug remnants showed the presence of undeclared western drug ingredients glibenclamide and sildenafil, which are used for treating diabetes and sexual dysfunction,' a department spokesman said.

'They bought and consumed ... these products, which are not registered pharmaceutical products in Hong Kong.

'The side effects of sildenafil include low blood pressure, headache, vomiting, dizziness and transient vision disturbances.

'They may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs [such as nitroglycerine] and may lower the blood pressure of patients to very dangerous levels.'

The department advised people not to use these prescription drugs - glibenclamide and sildenafil - without a doctor's advice.

The spokesman also 'urged people who had a problem with sexual dysfunction to consult medical professionals for appropriate advice or medication if necessary'.

I can see the makers of Kau Bin Wong and Sarm Bin Yuen using the department's health warning as a quality-assurance advert for their products.