Unusually Large Traces of Viagra Found in Seoul’s Sewers

The discovery suggests illegal distribution of erectile dysfunction drugs.
Junhyup Kwon
Seoul, KR
May 26, 2021, 8:57am
Viagra Erectile Dysfunction nightlight in Seoul Erection
The Hongdae shopping district in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Unusually high traces of Viagra and other drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction were discovered in Seoul’s wastewater, researchers said in a recent paper, suggesting a thriving black market for the pills.

Samples from the South Korean capital’s sewers were taken in April 2018 but the study was only published earlier this month in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers found that levels of erectile dysfunction drugs appeared to spike on weekends and in areas with bars, clubs, and adult entertainment businesses.

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They found concentrations of the Pfizer-made drug Sildenafil, more commonly known by brand name Viagra, in amounts three to four times higher than in Brussels and two to five times higher than in Copenhagen.

Lead researcher Kim Hyunook, a professor of environment engineering at the University of Seoul, said he was inspired to look into the issue after a friend told him that the pills were easily acquired in Seoul’s nightlife scene. 

“The amount of the chemicals found in the wastewater was much higher than it should be. This means that a large amount of the drugs are consumed illegally without a prescription,” Kim told VICE World News.

He added that because wastewater was usually treated and discharged separately from the drinking water supply, there were no apparent risks to the general public. But he called for better government regulation as there could be unforeseen consequences.

“I don’t think the chemicals would affect people directly because they usually don’t drink the water. But we would never know how it would affect the environment and how it would bring us knock-on effects in the long term,” Kim warned.

The team advised that a regular monitoring system and management program “should be developed to prevent the discharge of the pharmaceuticals into the water environment.”

Erectile dysfunction is a common issue among men worldwide. According to one estimate, approximately 322 million people will deal with the problem by 2025. In South Korea, about 23 percent of men aged 30-39 years have reported not being able to get an erection, one study said.

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