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A Controversial Female Libido Enhancer Is Reborn


Flibanserin, initially tested in clinical trials as an antidepressant, has been rebooted and is being touted to increase sexual desire in women. Screen shot/Youtube/howstuffworks

Dry mouth, nausea, constipation, non menses-related bleeding, fainting and falling: Those are just some of the not-so-sexy side effects of the newly relaunched women's libido enhancer – Addyi – that first made the scene in 2015 when somebody thought it was feminist (not) and cute (uh-uh) to coin the name "female Viagra" for a spurious feminine sexual wellness drug. This time around it's available online for half the price: down to $400 a month from $800 if you have insurance and no more than $99 a month if you're uninsured.

"Addyi was controversial when it was first considered and approved," says Richard Klein, former director of the FDA Patient Liaison Program, in an email. "The company skillfully used a PR campaign and turned weak data into a political issue of 'gender equality.' The drug had been considered for approval before and turned down: Twice!"

That said, say hello again to flibanserin: the little pink pill with the Food and Drug Administration's strictest "black box" warning, the strongest warning used in the labeling of prescription drugs or drug products by the FDA when there is reasonable evidence of a serious hazard associated with taking the drug. The drug is effective in just somewhere between 8 and 13 percent of women, and can cause fainting, dizziness and low blood pressure, effects which were found to be increased by alcohol and hormonal contraception. In fact, total abstinence from alcohol is required, because unlike Viagra for men, which is taken just before sex to enhance physical arousal, flibanserin (a failed antidepressant) has to be taken daily. The once-daily dose acts like a sedative, so it's advised to take it at bedtime to reduce the risk of serious injury.

Sold under the brand name Addyi, this alleged female libido enhancer, the first-ever drug approved for low libido in women, is billed by its parent company, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, as a remedy for so-called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). Translation: low sex drive that causes emotional distress in premenopausal women. HSDD is conservatively estimated to affect 10 percent of, or some 6 million, women in the United States who experience persistent or recurrent disinterest in sexual activity.

But according to an April 2018 article in National Women's Health Network, it's vital to consider the countless stressful life experiences including child bearing and breast feeding, job dissatisfaction and unemployment, relationship problems, aging and illness, to name a few major issues that can lead to decreased sexual desire and satisfaction. Depression, anxiety and high blood pressure medications can have a negative impact on libido as well. And, of course, women can experience a decline in libido without any of these things being involved. What's important is for women to consider all the possible causes before resorting to a risky, potentially hazardous, re-packaged pharmaceutical that fizzled when it debuted the first time.

"Addyi has the potential to put women at serious risk of falls or accidents with very little identified benefit relative to the risk," says Klein.



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