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Young Men Lead Surge in Viagra Use

Research Shows Threefold Boost Among Men Aged 18-45
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 5, 2004 -- Erectile dysfunction apparently isn't just an older man's problem anymore. Young men, even some who are college-aged, are leading the surge in Viagra use.

New research indicates that the use of Viagra skyrocketed 312% among men aged 18-45 between 1998 and 2002. There's also been a twofold increase -- 216% -- among men between ages 45 and 55, says Tom Delate, PhD, whose research analyzed data on medical insurance claims by some 5 million patients across the country.

"We tried to see if these patients had an underlying medical condition and we couldn't identify one in the majority," says Delate, director of research for Express Scripts, Inc., a St. Louis-based firm that conducts pharmaceutical research for insurers, managed care organizations, and other companies.

"What we found was that problems typically seem to start in a man's 40s and affected only about 40% of the men in these age groups."

Enhancer Rather Than Remedy?

Does this suggest a growing trend in using the drug for recreational rather than medical purposes -- such as for a sex enhancer?

"That would be my guess," Delate tells WebMD.

While Delate notes that men older than age 56 continue to fill the lion's share of prescriptions for Viagra, his study -- published in the August issue of the International Journal of Impotence -- also shows a 13% increase in Viagra prescriptions for women between ages 18 and 45. While some studies indicate that Viagra can increase sex drive and satisfaction levels in women, especially before menopause, this is not a consistent finding.

Delate also finds that two in three prescriptions came from primary care physicians, rather than urologists.

"One suggestion about what may be going on: It could be that patients are coming in, asking for the drug, and the prescriber wants to please the patients and meet their expectations," he tells WebMD. "It could be the primary care physician doesn't have a lot of time to spend with them, and may not be asking questions."

Better Performance, Even if Not Needed

Viagra was the first oral drug approved for erectile dysfunction, which transiently affects nearly all men at some point, but occurs on a continued basis in as many as 20 million Americans. Erectile dysfunction can occur at any age, but typically affects men after age 50. Since Viagra, two other erectile dysfunction medications -- Levitra and Cialis -- have been approved by the FDA.

There is evidence that Viagra, at least, is used by some without erectile dysfunction to enhance sexual performance. A study two years ago in the journal AIDS shows that roughly one in three gay men without ED who were treated at San Francisco health clinics admitted to using Viagra as a sex enhancer, often in combination with illegal drugs.

The benefit? The belief it will lead to longer and stronger erections. In a January 2000 study in Human Reproduction, Italian researchers note men without erectile dysfunction who took Viagra cut in half their "refractory period" -- the time it takes to get another erection following orgasm -- from the typical 20 minutes to about 10.

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