Consumer Reports: Splitting pills can be economical, but it can also be risky

July 11, 2011

Splitting pills is a common but controversial practice. It can shave a healthy sum from your pharmaceutical costs, because a larger dose is often not much more expensive than a smaller dose: It can be like buying two for the price of one. But consider the cautions.

The Food and Drug Administration recently called splitting pills a “risky practice,” and the agency does not encourage splitting unless it has approved doing so for a particular drug. Still, Consumer Reports’ analysis of the research has found that many pills can be safely split as long as you do it carefully and with the guidance of a medical professional. Here are some tips:

l  Talk with your doctor or pharmacist first. Not all drugs are safe for splitting. Make sure to ask your provider whether your medication can be split. Some common pills, including aspirin, cholesterol-lowering statins and those for high blood pressure and depression, are good candidates. Still, your doctor might advise against splitting even those. Some people might have trouble splitting pills due to poor eyesight, arthritis or dementia, for example.

l  Consider the advantages and the alternatives. The biggest savings come from splitting brand-name drugs you take daily for a chronic condition. Alternatively, you might be able to save money and time by switching to a generic version of your prescription, if one is available. Also, some brand-name drugs that are taken sporadically, such as those to ease pain or erectile dysfunction, can be split, but the savings won’t be as notable.

l Use a pill splitter. Don’t use a knife or a scissors. Studies have found that pill splitters come closest to dividing medication into equal halves. You can find them at drugstores for $3 to $10. And some insurance plans offer splitters for free. There are also splitters for cutting oddly shaped pills.

l  Don’t split pills in advance. Do it on the day you take the first half. Take the second half as your next dose. That will help keep the drugs from deteriorating due to exposure to heat, moisture or air. It will also help ensure that any deviation in the size of one dose is compensated for in the next.

Some pills should never be split. Drugs that are time-released or long-lasting and tablets that contain a combination of drugs probably shouldn’t be split, because it’s difficult to ensure a proper amount of active ingredient in each half. Pills with a coating to protect your stomach, such as ibuprofen, should not be cut, either. Other pills might crumble or irritate your mouth when split. Drugs that require critical daily blood levels, such as anti-seizure medication, birth control pills and blood thinners, along with capsules containing powders or gels, should not be split.

Copyright 2011. Consumers
Union of United States Inc.

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