A Downside To Viagra?

Diego Padro has chronic diabetes, a condition that led to impotence. When he heard that Viagra was a safe and effective treatment, he asked his doctor if he could try it.

But the day after taking Viagra, he felt ill. And three days later, he had a heart attack. "He gave me no warnings of any kind," Padro says. "I have no history whatsoever of heart disease of any kind."

Padro is one of many people who have had problems with Viagra. He is suing the manufacturer, Pfizer. But Pfizer maintains the drug is safe for diabetics.

"In looking at some 2 million men who used it so far, the vast majority [of those who have health problems] are older men with underlying diabetes, heart disease, and cancer of the prostate," says Mike McGee, senior medical adviser at Pfizer. "From our studies, we have found it to be used appropriately."

But since the drug was put on the market last April, 39 people have died after taking it. Urologists like Arnold Mellman say the problem is not with the drug. It's with the doctors who are prescribing it. "Everyone who comes in wants to take a pill," Mellman says. "I don't think people want to hear the downside. I think the doctor has a responsibility to say 'no'."

But many doctors, according to Mellman, don't have enough information. The only warning label on the bottle says "do not take with nitrates." When the drug is approved for use in Europe, it will come with a whole pamphlet of precautions for patients. Consumer advocates want to see the same thing in the United States.

"The first thing we are trying to do is to get the FDA to change the warnings for doctors and patients," says Dr. Sidney Wolfe of watchdog-group Public Citizen.

Pfizer and the FDA have no plans to change the labels. So for now, all responsibility for taking Viagra continues to lie in the hands of patients and their doctors.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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