Thriving black market in antidepression drugsJ'can men are using them to boost sex drive
By Ann-Margaret Lim
Observer staff reporter
Many Jamaican men have turned to antidepressants, not to cure a mental illness - for which they are prescribed - but to enhance their sexual performance, fuelling a thriving black market.
Pharmacies are also reporting brisk sales of several anti-depressant drugs, which have as a bonus side effect, delayed ejaculation.
Three of the more popular antidepressants being used to enhance performance in bed are Anafranil, Sephranil and Paxil, pharmacists tell the Sunday Observer.
The leading seller among them, Anafranil, is variously referred to as "gungo", "the bomb" or "the nerve pill", and can easily be obtained on the streets where no one asks for a prescription.
Urologist Robert Wan confirmed that delayed ejaculation was one of the side effects of this antidepressant, but added that physicians were unsure of how it delayed ejaculation.
Wan believed that Anafranil posed no physical harm to someone using it for sexual enhancement.
"Anafranil has been on the market for a long time without any large-scale complaints and so nothing bad should happen to those who take it for an alternative reason," said Wan.
"Long-term use won't cause any permanent damage to the penis or affect erection, but if there is any sexual side effect, this would be transient and not lead to any permanent disorder," he told the newspaper.
In any event, Wan noted, Anafranil was one of the older antidepressants and was not as popular with doctors as the newer ones, because its side effects included drowsiness and yawning.
Veteran urologist Professor Lawson Douglas cautioned that Anafranil should not be taken with another antidepressant called Isocarbosazid Acid which has the brand name Marplam. He too affirmed that Anafranil had no long-term negative side effects on erection.
Dr Earl Wright, director of mental health services and substance abuse at the Ministry of Health also affirmed that antidepressants generally delay ejaculation, but he warned that they should not be bought on the streets. "Medication should not be bought on the street and this black market sale causes more problems for those who misuse the drugs," said Wright.
But despite the illegality of its open street sale, Anafranil has been a staple of uptown and downtown vendors in both its 10 and 25 milligram dosages, with the smaller dosage sold at $75 and the larger one at $100. According to a security guard who asked only to be identified by his Christian name Andrew, the price has recently been hiked because of the pill's growing scarcity.
Qualcare Limited, the sole local distributors of the drug, blamed some pharmacies and illegal importers for the pill's availability on the streets. A company spokesman who did not wish to be identified, declined to give the annual quantity distributed to pharmacies, but disclosed that they sold Anafranil at a wholesale unit price of J$26.73 to pharmacies.
The spokesman also agreed that the pill had no drastic side effects on those using it to enhance sexual performance.
Acknowledging that the drug was popular on the streets for its alternative purpose, chief pharmacist at York Pharmacy, Eleanor Watson, said her pharmacy sold the drug only to people with legitimate prescriptions.
Sales of Anafranil were being outpaced by Sephranil and Paxil at Haughton's Pharmacy when the Sunday Observer checked. "We don't stock much Anafranil, because the newer anti-depressants are more popular and sell more quickly," said the pharmacist there, who noted that she sold less than 100 Anafranil tablets each month.
Michelle Russell, pharmacist at Mayfair Pharmacy on Red Hills Road, St Andrew, said sales were low at her pharmacy but only because of her own doing. "We don't fill these prescriptions when we suspect misuse. Someone who comes in with a prescription with no instructions and one for only five days, for example, is denied the drug," she said.
"I only sell about 30 Anafranil each month, because I have only two patients legitimately on the drug." According to Russell, the drug, which sells for $40 at Mayfair, attracted the lower socio-economic group, as against Viagra, which, she said, had a unit price of over $800.
One pharmacist, who also did not want to be named, said she refused to stock the drug because men from the streets were bombarding her with shady prescriptions. However, despite the efforts of some pharmacies to deny the street sellers, determined men can get 'the bomb' from other pharmacies or on the streets.
Dean, a 28 year-old mechanic, bought 'the bomb' last year for $50 on the street, but said it was ineffective. For like-minded men, he recommended 'long-love condoms'.
"Long-love is the best thing, because 'stone' (a numbing aphrodisiac popular in the street culture) is built into the condom," he said.
Russell explained that the in-built 'stone' to which Dean referred was an anaesthetic which numbs the penis and prolongs staying power. She also confirmed that this anaesthetic was present in 'long-love' condoms.
Tight-lipped about their suppliers, the vendors can be seen in downtown Kingston and in Half-Way-Tree openly plying their drugs.
"Almost every week guys used to ask me for prescriptions and some sold the pills to their friends," a retired doctor recalled. He said it was common for general practitioners to write these prescriptions for their male patients, knowing their intent.
Andrew, the security guard, said that last year he bought two for $50 from his friend and that they delayed his ejaculation. He, however, had not used it since, because his supplier migrated. Andrew, said, however, that he preferred to use Retardin, a desensitising cream for men, as it does not make him yawn, as does 'the bomb'. Retardin is a prescription drug.
But a 33 year-old mechanic, who gave his name only as Shante, claimed that 'the bomb' doesn't work. "It doesn't make you stay any longer, it only makes the penis stiffer. The best one is 'stone', but this kills the nerves and hurts sometimes." According to Shante: "Only men who get new women use 'the bomb'."