Response to new drug overwhelms physician

NEW YORK (AP) — Duke University Medical School urologist Craig Donatucci has given up answering calls on the new pill for impotence.
Patients asking about Pfizer Inc.’s drug, Viagra, now get a recorded message: “Because of the volume of patient calls for Viagra, Dr. Donatucci is unable to take phone calls concerning this new drug.”
Although the drug started hitting pharmacy shelves earlier this month, many druggists haven’t gotten their first shipment and doctors are still evaluating the latest impotence treatment. But patients aren’t waiting to get in line.
Viagra captured a whopping 79 percent of the market from rival impotence drugs during its second week of sales, through April 10, according to IMS America, a research information company that reported the figures late Monday.
The drug had 5 percent of the market during limited availability the previous week, and Pfizer didn’t expect it to be widely available until April 15.
The drug’s popularity more than doubled the total number of impotence prescriptions patients filled in the United States, from a total of 20,106 in the week ended April 3 to 54,474 in the week ended April 10.
Atlanta urologist John Stripling wore out his hand writing 500 prescriptions in two weeks. Now he’s using a rubber stamp to prescribe the pill.
“I’ve never seen such interest in a prescription drug in all of my years of medicine,” said Stripling, who had 300 people waiting when for the drug to become available and is getting 25 calls a day from interested patients.
Donatucci said he’s written 150 prescriptions and is scheduling appointments for those who get his message.
Doctors and drug industry analysts expect Viagra to eclipse competing impotence nostrums within months.
The drug owes its popularity less to what it does than to what it doesn’t do: Make strong men wince. Existing impotence drugs must be either injected into the penis or inserted into the urinary tract.
Two men in five have problems getting an erection at age 40. Nearly seven in 10 do at age 70. Pfizer estimates the number of men coping with impotence worldwide at 140 million.
The drug should bring Pfizer $300 million in sales during the rest of the year, said Mariola Hagger, an analyst with Deutsche Morgan Grenfell. Many analysts expect it to bring in more than $1 billion in annual sales after 2000.
“It doesn’t make you 21 again, but it does solve the problem,” said Robert W. Shay, a 70-year-old Los Angeles resident who took part in clinical trials of the drug from 1996 to 1997.
Shay, who used to take performance-boosting injections, said Viagra works about as well as the shots but is more discreet and less painful.
The drug was originally intended as a treatment for angina. It was supposed to increase blood flow to the heart. But the rush of blood filled another organ instead. Pfizer decided that one man’s side effect was another man’s cure and developed it as an impotence treatment.
Unlike the injections, which can leave the user erect for an hour without outside stimulation, Viagra allows the user to react normally to sexual stimulation.
Some doctors say they’re worried that sexually potent men will use the drug as a performance booster — a kind of sexual steroid. A 52-year-old Viagra user in Atlanta who spoke on condition of anonymity said that’s what he’d do if he didn’t already need Viagra.
“If I was 16 or 17 and I could get hold of the stuff, I would,” he said. “If it’s not a miracle, it’s as close as you can get.”
Pfizer shares bolted 8 percent, up $8.18 to $113.37 on the New York Stock Exchange.