Why Is Viagra So Expensive?

Despite increasing competition from generic and alternative erectile dysfunction medications, Viagra prices are still rising. How is this so? In this article, we discuss the reasons behind Viagra’s steep price, introduce sildenafil (generic Viagra), and explain the differences and similarities between sildenafil and Viagra.

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What Is Viagra?

Since its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998, over 25 million prescriptions for Viagra and sildenafil have been written. ED affects men worldwide, with the rate of ED increasing with age. According to a 1995 study, worldwide prevalence of ED is projected to double from 152 million men in 1995 to 322 million in 2025. 


Viagra prices have also been on the upward trend. A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that from 2012 to 2017, Viagra had the biggest prescription drug price hike in the U.S., with a price surge of 190%. 

How Does Viagra Work? 

Viagra belongs to a family of drugs known as phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. It treats ED by relaxing the walls of blood vessels in the penis, allowing blood to flow more freely to create and maintain an erection. However, keep in mind that Viagra only works if you’re sexually aroused. The erection should go away naturally after sexual intercourse. 


Apart from Viagra, there are other ED medications available today, such as Tadalafil and Vardenafil. 

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Why Is Viagra So Expensive?

First Erectile Dysfunction Medication On The Market 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane shall we? 


While there are many reasons why Viagra is so expensive, a large reason comes from how Viagra was the first ED medication on the market. Up till the FDA’s approval of Cialis in 2003, Viagra faced no competition, allowing for continued high prices. 


Furthermore, medications like Viagra are expensive as they require years of research and development before it is approved to be sold to the public. The huge investment made by pharmaceutical companies coupled with Viagra being the first ED medication justified its premium price point.

But Shouldn’t Viagra Prices Drop With More Alternatives? 

Viagra was once the only ED medication on the market, but not for long. Soon after, alternative ED medications like Tadalafil and Cialis, and generic forms of Viagra (sildenafil) started emerging. 


Despite the rising competition, Viagra prices still continued to rise against all odds. Why is that happening? Well, one explanation is that with greater awareness of ED comes greater demand for ED medication. Over the years, all ED medications increased in price together. According to the aforementioned 2019 study, from 2012 to 2017, the price of Viagra rose by 190% while that of Cialis rose by 187%. 

Let's Talk About Sildenafil

Since the expiry of Pfizer’s patent on Viagra starting in 2012, many companies and brands began producing and marketing their own generic Viagra medicines at much lower prices. 


These generic Viagra medicines are otherwise known as sildenafil. To put it simply, Viagra is a brand name medication invented by Pfizer and sildenafil is the generic name for the active ingredient present within Viagra. 


Essentially, both name brand Viagra and generic sildenafil are PDE-5 inhibitors with zero chemical differences. They are the same medication containing the same active ingredient – sildenafil. 

Branded Viagra vs. Generic Sildenafil 

The main differences between Viagra and sildenafil is their cost, with sildenafil being a lot cheaper than Viagra. In 2017, Pfizer even released its own sildenafil at half the price of Viagra. 


Furthermore, in the United States, generic sildenafil tablets can go for as low as $3 each, while brand name Viagra can cost up to $70. When you pay extra for Viagra, it’s because you’re paying for the brand name. 

If Sildenafil Is Cheaper, Why Do Consumers Still Choose Viagra?

The answer seems simple, right? If sildenafil is so much cheaper, why not simply purchase sildenafil instead of Viagra? Well, as it turns out, consumers have a tendency to choose branded medications over generic versions due to internal biases. 


Here are some reasons why consumers are more likely to choose Viagra over sildenafil. 

Everyone Knows About Viagra 

Being the first ED medication sure comes with a set of perks. After staying on the market for so long, the evidence in the literature behind Viagra’s strength and efficacy is almost undeniable. Consumers are thus more assured when taking Viagra. 


Generic Competition Paradox 


As aforementioned, the increased competition from lower priced generic drugs like sildenafil did not cause the price of Viagra to drop. In fact, Viagra prices continued to rise. This is known as the generic competition paradox, and it is extremely prevalent within the prescription drug market. 


Equating Brand Name and High Price with Higher Value 


Consumers tend to associate higher prices with higher value. As Viagra costs a lot more than sildenafil, consumers falsely assume that Viagra contains something extra to justify this higher price point. In reality, the drug composition for Viagra and sildenafil are the same. 


Equating Brand with Better Efficacy

Let’s be real – drugs don’t work 100% of the time. When a branded drug fails, consumers assume that the drug doesn’t work and would try out alternative medications. However, when a generic drug fails, consumers assume that the generic drug is missing something and would switch to using the branded drug.

The Takeaway

Why Sildenafil Might Be the Better Option for You 

It’s human to let our consumer biases get in the way of our better judgement. After all, sildenafil does indeed sound too good to be true, right? Shouldn't there be a catch somewhere? 


Well, the fact of the matter is that sildenafil is indeed that good of an alternative to Viagra! Despite being sold for much cheaper, it is on par with Viagra in terms of drug composition and quality. The same medical benefits provided by Viagra will likewise be provided by sildenafil. 


If you’ve been seeing positive results with Viagra but find it too expensive, consider switching to sildenafil instead. However, to err on the side of caution, it is advised that you consult a doctor first before making any medical changes. 


Here at Noah, our doctors are best equipped with the knowledge to help you ascertain the root cause of your erectile dysfunction and can determine whether generic sildenafil is right for you. They will also be able to advise on the best treatment suited for you, and can prescribe you the right medication should you need it.

DISCLAIMER

Articles featured on Noah are for informational purposes only and should not be constituted as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. If you're looking for a healthcare provider, click here.

References

Aytaç, et al. “The Likely Worldwide Increase in Erectile Dysfunction between 1995 and 2025 and Some Possible Policy Consequences.” BJU International vol. 84,1 (1999): 50–56. (Link


Dotinga, Randy. “Why Branded Viagra Is Vastly More Expensive Than Its Generics.” MedPage Today, 15 Jun. 2021. (Link


Kane, SP. “Sildenafil – Drug Usage Statistics, ClinCalc DrugStats Database.” ClinCalc, ClinCalc DrugStats Database, Version 2021. 10, 15 Sept. 2021. (Link


Lovelace, Berkeley, Jr. “How Viagra Revolutionized the Erectile Dysfunction Market.” CNBC, 15 May 2019. (Link


Wineinger, Nathan E., et al. “Trends in Prices of Popular Brand-Name Prescription Drugs in the United States.” JAMA Network Open vol. 2,5 (2019): e194791. (Link)

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Published On
December 13, 2021

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