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Monday, May 18, 1998 Published at 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK


Despatches

Sex pills sell in Saudi

Selling in Saudi for up to eight times the US retail value

The new American drug, Viagra, used to treat impotent men, is selling fast on the black market in Saudi Arabia where it has yet to be licensed, and police in Egypt are reported to have raided stores to prevent further illegal sales. Our Gulf correspondent, Frank Gardner, reports from Dubai on the booming trade in smuggled pills.

According to the Saudi newspaper, Al-Eqtisadiah, large quantities of drugs branded as Viagra are being smuggled into the country and sold for up to $80 a pill.

Journalists in the Saudi commercial capital, Jeddah, confirmed the demand is high for the new drug which boosts the sex life of impotent men.

Although more than half a million prescriptions have been issued in the US for Viagra, it has yet to be licensed in Saudi Arabia or the other Gulf Arab states.

Saudi pharmacy officials have been quoted as saying that pills are being brought in illegally by travellers from Cairo. Smuggling drugs into Saudi Arabia carries a mandatory death sentence but pills for medical purposes are usually viewed differently.

At each year's Haj pilgrimage, thousands of foreign pilgrims enter the country with medication in their hand luggage which is often unlicensed in Saudi Arabia. But, since the drugs are not considered to be addictive narcotics, this practice is largely tolerated.

Since it may take several months before Viagra is licensed for sale in the Gulf states, there are concerns that counterfeit pills may be sold under the same brand name.

With a large population of migrants workers passing constantly through the region's airports, the Gulf states already face widespread smuggling of drugs, ranging from heroin to unlicensed diet pills.

Now the Viagra impotency pill is being added to that list.



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