Viagra without a prescription?

It doesn't seem so long ago that Pfizer executives were landing at the company's glamorous new waterfront research headquarters in New London, their copters touching down on a pill-shaped landing pad painted a bright Pfizer/Viagra blue.

As we all know, the big post-Viagra Pfizer expansion bubble burst even before the rest of the economy tanked in the Great Recession.

But Pfizer, which most recently posted an especially strong showing among the corporate giants that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, now appears to be a more stable leg under the eastern Connecticut economy.

The company has always been coy about the number of employees it has here, but a company senior vice president was uncharacteristically reassuring in a recent talk to a local business group.

Pfizer has about 3,000 employees and 3,500 contractors at its Groton campus, according to Rod MacKenzie, head of Pfizer Pharma Therapeutics Research, who suggested the "vibrant, thriving site" here might remain a stable force locally.

There is enough of a Pfizer presence here that there is still a local grapevine, and I have heard it buzzing a bit lately with the notion that Pfizer is hatching a plan to sell an over-the-counter version of Viagra.

Viagra accounted for $1.8 billion in worldwide sales for Pfizer in 2013. That's a lot of erectile dysfunction treatment.

Imagine how that number would grow if you could buy it over the counter, just slide it across to the cashier at your local CVS, no prescription or embarrassing conversation with your doctor required.

Over-the-counter Viagra is not a new concept. The company tried to change the chemical formula and offer it without a prescription in Europe as long ago as 2008. But they abandoned the plan after meeting resistance.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration won't comment, for proprietary reasons, on applications by drug companies to sell their products over the counter.

A Pfizer spokesperson this week issued a statement in response to word heard around Groton that a nonprescription Viagra rollout might be in the works.

"We are evaluating a number of molecules for potential switch from prescription to non-prescription status, and are focusing on categories that will have the greatest benefit for patients and the healthcare system overall," the statement said. "At this time, we are not discussing the individual medicines being evaluated."

Curiously, the company didn't say nonprescription Viagra plans are not in the works.

Last year, the company started selling Viagra directly to consumers over a website, if the customer has a prescription.

Pfizer said at the time they rolled out viagra.com that they were worried about the black market in which counterfeiters were selling fake Viagra tainted with unacceptable ingredients, like printer ink.

Something tells me that Pfizer was less concerned about the printer ink than the dollars being spent on the black market, money not helping to swell that $1.8 billion sales total for the true blue pill.

Since we all live here in what still amounts to a Pfizer company town, let's hope that if nonprescription Viagra is indeed in the works, that it ends up being very profitable.

I liked it better when Pfizer executives were dropping out of the sky onto pill-shaped helicopter landing pads here, instead of tearing buildings down to avoid property tax bills.

This is the opinion of David Collins.
d.collins@theday.com

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