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Pill Splitting: When Is It Safe? When Is It Unsafe?

Pill splitting can help save almost 50% of the cost of some prescription drugs.
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Other Pill-Splitting Risks

Splitting the wrong sort of pills isn't the only risk. Another danger lies with the person who's splitting them: what if he or she isn't doing it correctly?

For instance, a person might not split the pill evenly, resulting in two pieces with very different dosages. Or he or she might use a dull blade which crushes the pill as it splits it, leaving too much of the medicine as powder on the bathroom counter, and too little for the body. Or, what if a person taking multiple medications gets confused and starts splitting the wrong pills?

Because of the potential problems, some experts recommend that patients should not split pills themselves. Instead, they say, the pill splitting should be done by a pharmacist.

However, some proponents of pill splitting find these precautions excessive. And they point out that studies of patient pill splitting have not shown any of these potential problems to be issues. For instance, a 2007 study looked at 200 people using statins to control cholesterol. The researchers found that, after six months of splitting pills, the group:

  • Was just as likely to take their medicine as they were before.
  • Had equally successful control of their cholesterol levels as they did before.

That said, some people have physical or cognitive problems that could interfere with their ability to split pills. Experts say that you shouldn't split pills on your own if you have:

  • Poor eyesight
  • Lost a limb
  • Tremors
  • Severe arthritis
  • Other medical conditions that could make accurate pill splitting difficult

Is Pill Splitting Worth It?

It might not surprise you that some of the most enthusiastic supporters of pill splitting have been HMOs anxious to cut costs. One insurer allegedly made pill cutting mandatory for patients taking certain drugs, a practice condemned by the American Medical Association and other organizations. After a class action lawsuit, health plans now stress that pill-splitting programs are optional.

Nonetheless, institutional pill splitting is becoming more common. In 2006, the University of Michigan started a pill-splitting program. In the first year, the university saved $195,000, and members saved over $25,000 in the costs of their drugs. One insurer, UnitedHealth Group, says that members can save up to $300 per year using its pill-splitting program.

While there's no doubt pill splitting can save money on prescription drugs, you need to consider whether it's worth it for you. As always, the key is to talk to your doctor and go over the pros and cons. Some people might be uncomfortable with the idea, or it might seem like too much of a hassle. If that's the case, don't let yourself get pushed into it. But for many people, pill splitting offers a two-for-one bargain that's far too good to pass up.

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Reviewed on October 04, 2010

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