Today In History: Viagra Cleared By The FDA

Real History |

March 27th, 1998: a day that will live in in-firm-y. When the FDA authorized Viagra for sale, the world stood at attention. Our spam folders would never be the same again.

Viagra, proper name "Sildenafil," was originally formulated as a hypertension medication. It was also meant to treat angina pectoris, a kind of heart disease. While Sildenafil wasn't particularly effective against angina, it had an unexpected side-effect. You know what it is.

Pfizer correctly recognized the potential market value of a medication that could induce erections and threw their marketing department behind the endeavor. Sildenafil was patented two years before Viagra was cleared by the FDA. Two years is a remarkably quick turnaround for a new medication to be greenlit for sale.

"Erectile dysfunction," the new, gentler name for the condition formerly known as impotence, now had its cure. Viagra exploded in popularity as soon as the public was made aware of it.

Will Rabbe

In its first year, Viagra netted roughly a billion dollars. Each pill cost between eight and ten dollars - a price that suffering men were happily willing to pay. Viagra's success was largely due to an aggressive advertising campaign, an oddity at the time for prescription medication. The marketing push was helped by the now-(in)famous endorsement of Bob Dole.

Viagra permanently altered the way prescription medications were sold - ever since, they have been marketed in essentially the same way you'd advertise shoes or data plans. Now, the pharmaceutical industry puts huge dollars into ads.

Erectile dysfunction is a common problem that's getting commoner. About thirty million American men suffer from it and the number is reportedly growing. It is increasingly likely that young men - even teenagers - report symptoms of ED. Some are blaming the rise of free internet pornography for the ill effect.

Viagra has spawned a small niche market of competitors, namely Cialis and Levitra. They are no longer marketed directly / exclusively to older men. And in some ways, we're still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nobody fully understands what the medications' long-term health effects may be. Viagra comes with a warning for men with heart conditions already.

Viagra is more than just a boner pill, it's a cultural phenomenon that subtly changed the way we think about medicine. Not to mention changed the way we listen to hack comedy. Next time you see a commercial for an SSRI, remember what paved the way for it.


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