Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Sex, Lies, and the Media: Did Businessweek Distort the Relation Between ED Drugs and STDs?

The headline in a recent story reported in Bloomberg Businessweek tells it all: "Men on Viagra, Cialis Show Triple Rate of Sex Diseases in Study." This was duly summarized in the Blogosphere on PharmaGossip:
"Men on Viagra, Cialis Show Triple Rate of Sex Diseases in Study - BusinessWeek

"Men taking drugs for sexual potency showed almost triple the rate of sexually transmitted diseases compared with those not taking the medications, a Harvard University study found.

"The results, from an analysis of the health insurance claims of men aged 40 and older, may have more to do with the nature of the men using the impotence drugs than with the medicines leading them to have riskier sex, the research report said. The study, looking at men taking Pfizer’s Inc. Viagra and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cialis, was published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine."
Reading just the headlines and summaries such as the one above, you might be lead to believe that ED drugs CAUSE unsafe sex, which leads to more sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Right? WRONG!

You have to read down to the 11th paragraph of the 16 paragraph story to learn that the study does NOT prove that taking ED drugs leads to more unsafe sex. Quite the contrary: users of these drugs actually showed a DECREASE in STDs AFTER taking the drugs compared to BEFORE taking the drugs!

That paragraph states the study results: "The risk of getting HIV in the year before taking the pills was 3.32 times higher in drug-takers and 3.19 times greater in the year after, compared with those not taking the pills." [Find the article here.]

In other words, the groups of men who were prescribed ED drugs were in a high risk group BEFORE being prescribed ED drugs. In the abstract, the study authors were careful to point out "Significant changes in STD rates from the year before to the year after the first ED drug prescription was filled were not documented." [Find the abstract here.]

Pharma often complains that the media are "anti-pharma" and often emphasize the negative aspects of clinical trials, advertising, etc. (see, for example, "What's the Cause of the Drug Industry's Bad Reputation?"). The BusinessWeek article is just one case where I have to agree, although overall I sense that the industry gets a lot more positive traction from the media than negative (see, for example, "Academics Exaggerate, Journalists Regurgitate. What About Bloggers?").

What do YOU think?

Does the Media focus too much on bad news about the pharma industry?
Yes, definitely
Absolutely not
Maybe, sometimes
More often than not
It's pretty much balanced



  1. STI infection rates may have more to do with the types of patients using ED drugs rather than a direct effect of ED drug.

    I recall a 90 year old guy when I worked at a GUM clinic - " The Viagra's worked doc - I've caught the clap again!"

  2. I think, technically speaking, the authors of the actual study should get most of the blame here. Business Week, even if it reported the findings word for word, will still look biased against pharma simply because the study is so ridiculously biased and over-interpreted. If anyone should be bashed here, it's the Annals of Internal Medicine who actually published this POS "study."

    Dose of Digital

  3. Well, this may well be a case of academics exaggerating and journalists regurgitating!

  4. Anonymous4:40 PM

    The actual numbers also show an infection rate of way less than 1% to merely far less than 1%. This could be nothing more than a statistical error.

  5. I wonder if fish oil has any effect on other aspects of mental well-being such as preserving memory and preventing neurodegeneration. Also, it would be interesting to see a general study on those who regularly take fish oil versus those who do not to see what the difference in mental health is.Yes its true and we all know that Fish oils generally considered to be safe at therapeutic doses.It has good benefits for health.You have given good information about DHA cools the flames of inflammation.I like the way you have described it in detail.

  6. It's totally baseless to say that ED drugs cause unsafe sex.If you use protection while taking ED drugs then it's quite safe stuff.


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