Virtual Viagra: Part 2

Viagra is the anti-impotence drug has attracted investors, late-night comedians, and now the Internet.

Technically, you're supposed to get a prescription only after meeting with your physician. But CBS "This Morning" investigative correspondent Roberta Baskin simply went online to get around all of that. She filed this report:

Find the right Web site, spend about three minutes filling out the information, and your order of Viagra will be mailed to your home. It's the easiest way yet to buy prescription drugs. But is it legal or ethical?

Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, recommends you get a physical exam from your doctor. But all I did to get Viagra from Worldwide Medicine in Carson City, Nev., was fill out a short questionnaire with such non-specific answers as: "nothing," "not frequent enough," and "some time ago."

With one key stroke, I changed my name from Roberta to Robert and skipped over the male or female question - and within a week I received my first two bottles of Viagra, 20 pills at a competitive price.

On the Internet, observes Nancy Dickey, president of the American Medical Association, "there is no way to prevent you from putting an extra space in your name or just outright lying... Clearly, if you had walked into [a doctor's] office, there would have been no doubt that you were Roberta, not Robert."

But if you're ordering through the Internet, who's to know? In fact, the most challenging part of my cyberspace purchase was selecting the dose. 25 milligrams, or 50 - or 100? I put down the maximum strength: 100 mgs.

Bill Stallknecht is co-owner of the Pillbox pharmacy in San Antonio, whose Web site makes it possible for you to get the drug without going to the pharmacy or seeing a doctor. He says it doesn't matter what strength you ask for. "In this particular drug, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. It costs the same."

That depends on who you talk to. Dickey says, "So you can roll the dice and pick the dose. That makes a mockery out of the entire process in this country that tries to make medicine reasonably safe."

The name of my cyberspace doctor was right there on the bottle: Dr. Ron L. Nelms. I had never met, seen, or even heard of him before. And he wouldn't see me as a reporter or as his patient - instead referring me back to my pharmacist.

Stallknecht responds: "I essentially fill prescriptions that I get from whatever source. But they are all real prescriptions. So I don't have a lot of risk, where he is on the cutting edge of trying something new."

The actual "cut" Dr. Nelms gets for his role as cyberspace doctor, no one would say.

My online consultation cost $85. Did my doctor get the full $85? Stallknecht says, "He gets uh, he gets...It's split betwen the system and the uh, webmaster, that set up that sort of thing."

Bottom line: If you want to buy cyberspace prescriptions, you're on your own.

And Dickey says the complications could be quite serious. "You could die. You can have a complication to the medication, because you didn't know how it interacted with medication you were taking or symptoms you didn't recognize as fitting one of those categories of questions you asked, and you can die."

In fact, 69 people have died since Viagra got FDA approval earlier this year. But there are no laws against dispensing prescription drugs through cyberspace. However, there's plenty of discussion by State Medical and Pharmacy Boards, the AMA, and the Food and Drug Administration.

By Roberta Baskin
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