Every once in a while I get to feeling sorry for a pharmaceutical company. When I learned that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) had filed suit against Pfizer Inc. this past Monday, I got that warm, fuzzy feeling of remorse again. And this for the company that makes the assisted-suicide drug--I mean cholesterol-lowering aid--Lipitor. On the other hand, Pfizer has performed a service to humanity by inventing the popular erectile-dysfunction drug Viagra.
This contribution is not exactly appreciated by AHF, which describes itself as "the nation's largest AIDS organization," with mythical beginnings in the dark year of 1987 when its founders, noticing that people were dying on the streets of Los Angeles, decided to put an end to this unprofitable practice. (Exactly when did people stop dying on the streets of American cities?) It has gotten itself rather upset over Viagra, of all things. Much to the chagrin of the schoolmarms of AIDS prevention, some people have actually been having fun on the stuff since Pfizer allegedly advertised it as a "party drug." So AHF had to go spoil everybody's Super Bowl weekend by filing its lawsuit and placing educational ads.
Pfizer was fresh off a good spanking by the FDA over ads implying that Viagra could make an older man feel young again and become a "devil-horned 'wild thing'" when it went ahead with the younger demographic New Year's Eve and Super Bowl ads that so offend AHF. Reading, "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" and "Be this Sunday's MVP," the ads featured such obscene images as self-satisfied grins on 40-something men. Bob Dole's contract to comment on Britney Spears videos must have expired. Either that or, since facing competition from two other erectile-dysfunction drugs, Viagra isn't just for old pooparoos anymore.
Young gay men have gotten the idea that they can mix Viagra with crystal meth for a little "cocktail." Until the nation's crystal meth dealers are a corporation that AIDS organizations can sue, they're stuck with going after drug companies over these lethal recipes. And the idea that two or more drugs form a cocktail did, after all, come from these companies.
We last heard about crystal meth in early 2005, when has-been AIDS researchers David "Man of the Year" Ho and Aaron Markowitz tried to pass off a meth user as the first documented victim of an HIV "superbug." Apparently, the only risk of crystal meth was that people got kind of stupid on it. They would have sex with any-old smelly person and catch cooties, known nowadays as HIV.
"Crystal meth, like many club drugs, is a type of 'speed' that keeps the body feeling energetic and hypersexual. Because of the heightened sex drive and feelings of invincibility that crystal meth causes in users, the potential for unprotected sex, and HIV infection, increases dramatically. One of the side effects of crystal meth is that while it increases libido, it also causes impotence, causing many to use erectile dysfunction drugs, like Viagra, to obtain an erection."
So crystal meth causes sex drive to rise at the same time it makes an erection, well, droop. Bummer. But we're not done yet. Crystal meth use also causes elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, stroke, inflammation of the heart lining, elevated body temperature, convulsions, and death. Add to this episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and lingering psychotic symptoms. Injecting meth exposes a person to hepatitis B and other blood-borne viruses. After a while, injecting users risk scarred or collapsed veins, infections of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and liver or kidney disease.
Strange, but that sounds a bit like AIDS itself, even without the risky sex. What a pity to spoil the fun of people who are doomed anyway.
So far, AIDS organizations have not used this teachable moment to talk about the real dangers of crystal meth. Nor do they seem especially concerned about the "side effects" (nearly the only effects) of the HIV drugs they so heartily endorse.
Instead, AHF has already begun to place "Viagra/Meth Alert" ads in magazines and newspapers in heavily gay areas--including New York, San Francisco and South Florida. "Viagra + Crystal Meth = Rx for HIV Infection," they proclaim. (How about: HIV + $$ = B.S.?) Further, the lawsuit seeks to get Pfizer to pay for an "educational campaign" on the dangers of combining Viagra with crystal meth.
But maybe Viagra does have side effects as dangerous as AHF hints at. It could be a good thing to warn men off risky behavior while taking Viagra--such as visiting sports car lots or launching into bad pickup lines.
By the way, where does an AIDS organization that brags that 96% of its funds go directly into treatment get the money to fund a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company? From other pharmaceutical companies, of course. (You didn't think it was making that much money off its "Out of the Closet" thrift stores, did you?) AHF's 2005 contributors of $100,000 or more were Abbott Laboratories Inc., Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Meyers Squibb Company and Gilead Sciences Inc.--none of which make competing erectile-dysfunction drugs, in case that's what you were thinking. Pfizer didn't actually pony up any funds, but AHF hopes to benefit from "disgorgement of Pfizer's ill-gotten gains," pried loose as "restitution to AHF of monies it has spent treating people infected with HIV or other STDs as a result of Pfizer's conduct." Nearly 96% of this money will, no doubt, go back to Pfizer and other drug companies for HIV drugs, and the circle will be complete.
Elizabeth Ely is a freelance writer and public speaker based in New York City, who has learned all the wrong lessons from being thrown out of a major Protestant church. She is working on a book about the religious nature of AIDS-think.