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Pill splitting: Which ones are safe to divide?

Consumer Reports News: September 30, 2010 06:03 AM


Our 2nd annual prescription drug survey found that some Americans are splitting pills to save money on high priced prescription drugs. That strategy could indeed cut your medication bill, but there's a right way and a wrong way to split pills. If you're considering splitting your pills, these tips from our free pill splitting guide will help ensure that you do it the right way.

First, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medication can be safely split. Some medications cannot be split (more on that below), but in general, many common ones can, including aspirin, cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, and many high blood pressure and depression drugs.

Second, always use a pill splitter to ensure you've split the medication into equal halves. Pill splitters are widely available from pharmacies for $3-10 dollars. Or check with your health insurance company—some will send you a pill splitter for free (it saves them money too).

Don’t split your pills with a knife. Studies show that doing so too often leads to unequal halves. Pills should only be split in half, not into smaller portions, such as thirds or quarters. The easiest pills to split are relatively flat round ones with a scored center, a slightly indented line that runs across the center of the pill. However, not every pill that has a scored center is meant to be split.

Don't split your pills in advance. Some pills may deteriorate when exposed to air and moisture for long periods after being split. So for medications taken on a regular basis, only split your pill on the day you take the first half, and then take the other half on the second day or whenever you are scheduled to take your next dose.

If your doctor has prescribed half tablets, your pharmacy may split the pills for you. So when you pick up the prescription or a refill, ask if the pills have been split so you don't inadvertently split them again. Also be aware that the prescription label may refer to "one tablet" even though your doctor has told you to split the pills. If you're not sure about the label instructions or your doctor’s instructions, check before splitting or taking your medication.

There is no official or complete list of medicines that can be split. And it can actually be dangerous to split some drugs. Generally, the following kinds of pills should not be split:

  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Anti-seizure medicines
  • Birth control pills
  • Blood thinners (Coumadin, warfarin)
  • Capsules of any kind that contain powders or gels
  • Pills with a hard outside coating
  • Pills designed to release medication over time in your body
  • Pills that are coated to protect your stomach (enteric coating)
  • Pills that crumble easily, irritate your mouth, taste bitter, or contain strong dyes that could stain your teeth and your mouth.
  • Combination tablets that contain two or more medicines, in which the amount of one active ingredient changes from one tablet size to the next, but the amount of the other does not. (You’ll have to ask your doctor or pharmacist.) Hera are some examples: 

Some medications that can be split (but always check with your doctor or pharmacist beforehand; your situation may require something different):

For more on pill splitting, check out our free guide.

Steve Mitchell, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health Best Buy Drugs

To learn more about how you can get the most value for your health care dollar when it comes to prescription drugs, check out our free Best Buy Drugs reports.

   

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