Pill-Splitting: Common, But Controversial

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

April, 22, 2005

It's estimated Americans spend $200 billion on prescription drugs each year, and with the costs on the rise, consumers are looking for ways to save. Are people still buying medicine over the counter?

Yes they are. In fact, the most common way to save is switching to generic brands of medicine, but another way is also yielding large benefits. It's called pill-splitting.

The cost-cutting option of pill-splitting is a less common strategy, but more controversial. It saves money while also being harmful, by giving too much, or too little medication. Splitting pills makes sense to some when you can find medication selling cheaper for a higher dosage than a lesser dosage. What is not making sense is the question, why doesn't splitting work with all pills?

"There are a lot of drugs that can not be split. Anything that has iterant coating, so it's protecting the stomach. Anything that's delayed released, in a capsule, and also the irregularly shaped ones, " said Dr. Diane Snustand, an Associate Professor at the University of Virginia.

Pills suitable for splitting have a line down the middle, and are 'scored' by drug firms allowing doctors flexibility in prescribing dosages. Veteran Affairs hospitals across the country have been concerned about this practice, and released a report emphasizing that it does not recommend splitting pills. The VA hospitals found problems splitting coated and delayed-release pills with patients experiencing excessive drowsiness and fatigue.

While many in the medical field oppose the practice of splitting pills, many more support it, so long as you consult your doctor first.

"Why not save money if there is a safe way to do it. But it just can't be entered into without consideration of what the appropriate medications are and what the risks are, " Dr. Snustand added.

The best advice for someone considering the idea of splitting pills is not to do it if you're not sure of possible side effects.

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