Viagra Generic Leads to Surge in Prescriptions

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Tori Marsh
Tori Marsh, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx, and is the resident expert on drug pricing and savings.
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What happens when the blockbuster drug of the last 20 years goes generic? It gets even more popular.

Since Viagra hit the market in 1998, it’s been a massive success and prescribed to over 65 million men thus far. But it wasn’t cheap – one pill of Viagra cost well over $70, and few insurers provided coverage for the drug, meaning that inevitably some men didn’t pony up for the prescription. Which is why we wanted to take a look and see what has happened since Dec. 11, when Viagra went generic, and two cheaper versions came on the market.

So, what’s happened since generic sildenafil came onto the market? Turns out, a lot: the total number of weekly prescriptions has increased by a whopping 27% over the number of fills in 2017.

The breakdown of this growth is intriguing. Since the arrival of generic sildenafil just four months ago, fills for the expensive brand version of Viagra plummeted by 75% while fills for generic sildenafil soared to secure 80% of the market.

That still leaves about 15% of the market to the brand-name Viagra. That’s a surprisingly high amount of fills for a legacy brand drug, but it is in line with the strategy from Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, which has tried to capitalize on Viagra’s strong brand name recognition to hold on to a large proportion of prescriptions – even though the generic and the brand are identical, and even though the brand drug costs more than twice the generic.

Rather than represent a sudden increase in the underlying condition (erectile dysfunction) among American men, the growth in prescriptions likely illustrates how many more men are willing to pay for a cheaper version of the drug. Given how the drug is often used for recreational purposes as well, the increase may show how many more men are giving it a try at $30 a pop instead of $60 a pop.

This data reflects overall US prescriptions (not fills using GoodRx) and comes from several sources, including pharmacies and insurers, providing a representative sample of nationwide US prescription drug volume.

How much is generic sildenafil?

As generic drugs go, sildenafil still isn’t cheap, at around $30 per pill as a cash price (or around $25 using a GoodRx discount). That’s about half the price of brand-name Viagra. Why is it not more affordable? Technically, Pfizer still holds patent protection until 2020, but they reached an agreement with Teva Pharmaceuticals to allow Teva to also manufacture a generic version. Unfortunately, two generic manufacturers aren’t enough to drive costs down that much, but we expect to see more manufacturers come to the table in when patents expire in 2020.

While $30 per pill is still on the pricey side for one tablet, there are ways to save. GoodRx discounts drop the price to $25, and generic manufacturer Teva offers a savings program for eligible patients to pay as little as $0 on their prescription. For more information on this program, see their website here.

But wait, hasn’t a generic sildenafil been available for some time?

The generic status of sildenafil has been confusing. It turns out that sildenafil is the generic for two different drugs: Revatio and Viagra. These drugs are approved by the FDA for two different uses. Revatio is used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, while Viagra treats erectile dysfunction in men. Sildenafil has been available as a generic version of Revatio for several years, but the version for generic Viagra has only been available since Dec. 11, 2017.

How can you distinguish between the two? Revatio-equivalent sildenafil is only sold as a 20 mg tablet, while Viagra’s generic sildenafil is sold in 25 mg, 50 mg, 100 mg tablets. For more on this, see our previous post here.

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