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Guide to Pill Splitting

Some people are able to split their pills in half in order to save money on prescription drugs. If your doctor can double your normal dose, and you split the pills, you may be able to get a 2-month supply of medicine for the price of one.

But many medications cannot be split safely. The FDA has issued warnings about the risks. So have professional societies representing pharmacists and doctors. This article looks at when pill splitting is safe, and when it’s not.

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Pills You Can Split Safely

It's important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you start cutting up your pills. In general, however, look for these three signs that a pill is safe to split:

  1. FDA approval. If the FDA has approved a drug for splitting, it will be printed on the package insert.
  2. Thumbs up from your doctor or pharmacist. Before splitting any pill to save money, talk it over with your health care professional or pharmacist.
  3. Scored down the middle. Scored pills are easier to split evenly. But a line down the middle does not automatically make a pill safe to split. Check with your doctor or pharmacist, or look for the FDA approval.

Pills Not Suited for Splitting

If a pill has any of these four qualities, you should not try to cut it in half:  

  1. Hard outer coat. Splitting a coated pill can make it harder to swallow and may change the way your body absorbs the medicine.  
  2. Extended release. Pills formulated to release medication slowly throughout the day may lose this capability if split in half. 
  3. Capsules. Because they contain powder or gel, capsules have to be taken whole. 
  4. Small or uneven shape. Some pills are just too difficult to split evenly.

What Could Go Wrong With Splitting Pills?

Even if your doctor or pharmacist says your pills are safe to split, some people run into problems. Think about these potential problems before you decide to try pill splitting.

  1. Uneven dose. For some drugs, the dose has to be so accurate, even a small difference in two halves of a split pill could put your health at risk.
  2. Crushed pills. Some pills can easily turn to powder. A pile of crumbs will be very difficult to break into two equal doses.
  3. Miscommunication. Your doctor may write "1/2 pill" and your pharmacist may see "1 - 2 pills."
  4. Confusion. If you forget to split pills before taking them, you’ll take twice as much of the drug as your doctor intended.
  5. Physical limitations. If a medical condition has made your hands weak or unsteady, or if your vision is impaired, it will be tough to split pills cleanly by yourself.

If You Do Split Pills

  1. Use a pill splitter. They’re cheap -- between $3 and $10 at most pharmacies. Some health insurance providers will send them to their members for free.
  2. Keep it clean. Always wash your hands first. Wash the pill splitter thoroughly after you’ve done your splitting.
  3. Ask your pharmacist for instructions. Some pills may lose their potency when their insides are exposed to heat or humidity. Some groups say only registered pharmacists should split pills. Others recommend splitting one pill at a time.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 02, 2014

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