I will be following the launch of a new pharmaceutical pill targeting women, which some of you may have already heard of. The scientific name is flibanserin, the brand name as it will be sold in the USA is Addyi. Don’t ask me how they come up with these names, because that’s what I used to do, and the process is rather comical. The indication for the drug is “female sexual dysfunction”, which (in my opinion) is the first red flag. How do we define sexual dysfunction? By the amount of times your spouse wants it and you don’t? I’m sure the pharmaceutical company has given your gynecologist a measuring tool, if not all the tools they need to put the fear of frigidity in females.
Flibanserin is not yet approved for use in Canada. Advertising campaigns in the USA are just beginning, as shown here. True to form, the message from marketer Boehringer Ingelheim is fear-driven. “My low sex drive is making it hard to be close” is the heading, implying that this pill might help you become closer to your partner. The target, despite the age of the woman in the ad, is post-menopausal women, who have “lost their libido” (as if that’s a bad thing).
It’s encouraging to see some healthy pushback from both industry and consumers. MedPageToday in the USA reported on its blog that the FDA rejected the drug initially when it was sponsored by Boehringer, but then approved it when the drug was sold to Sprout Pharmaceuticals, a smaller player in the big pharma arena. Sprout went to a great deal of trouble to find women who would testify that their lack of interest in sex had caused them “substantial distress”, although the women were paid, so there is a credibility issue. You should know, as well, that the drug was originally investigated as an antidepressant, not for low libido. Antidepressants usually lower the libido, and they noticed that this one didn’t. In other words, there was a lot of time and money put into the research, and some leverage gained in finding some use for it. Opponents of the drug are even calling female hypoactive sexual desire disorder (or HSDD) a “figment of the pharmaceutical industry’s imagination”, which may be closer to the truth.
Either way, the drug has potentially serious side effects, including an increase in anxiety levels, as well as nausea, insomnia, stomach upsets, dizziness, fatigue and dry mouth. There have been no long-term studies done, so the jury’s out on that, as it usually is. From oral contraceptives to thalidomide, women have been the medical world’s guinea pigs for several decades now. There’s no other way, really. But consumers should know, and make an informed choice.
This previously released CNN video is amusing. The woman talks favourably about her experience with the “little pink pill” while her husband watches with a dumbfounded look on his face, not quite sure what he’s supposed to say. Her language is very casual in tone, but also very technical; she has become very comfortable with the terminology. And again, it all raises the question – if our sexual desire drops after a certain age, as nature intended, do we necessarily have to get it back? Is this not just catering to the male sexual appetite, which has proven to be more active longer? These are important questions, if only because the drug will be ingested by women in the later stages of life, who are battling other real age-related problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, arthritis, osteoporosis and mood swings.
The drug works by increasing the blood flow to the brain (as opposed to the genitals, which is where Viagra works), presumably causing alterations in brain chemistry. For those women who genuinely suffer as a result of low libido, it may be a promising new treatment. The rest of us need to be careful that we don’t get sucked into feeling bad that we’re not having sex every time our hubby does; that’s just ridiculous.
Then again, we’ve been made ridiculous by the advertising world for a long time. I’ll keep you posted about the Canadian launch, and feel free to send me any questions you might have that I can research for you. Sprout has announced its intention to hire 200 sales reps who will be calling on 30,000 doctors. Pricing will be different from region to region, but 10 tablets will cost about $400 without insurance, according to an article in the New York Times.