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Splitting Pills Can Save Money

Some Pills Can Be Split in Half Without Losing Medicinal Effect

A Model for the Future?

Both patients and the employers who insure them save money with pill-splitting, Choe says. A year after Choe's research was done, the University of Michigan launched a formal pill-splitting program for employees and retirees. In the first full year, the program saved the University $195,000, Choe says, and saved participants more than $25,000 in drug co-pay costs.

Choe is hopeful more insurers will adopt the co-pay reduction plan once they hear about her study.

Caveats

"Pill-splitting isn't for every drug or everyone," says Choe, who advises consumers to ask their doctor or pharmacist before splitting any medicines. People with manual dexterity problems, for instance, should probably not try to split pills. Those with cognitive problems may forget to split pills and end up taking too much medicine. Vision problems may make splitting too difficult.

Another expert takes a stronger stand. "From a safety standpoint, not splitting is preferred," says Michael Gaunt, PharmD, a medication safety analyst for the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. "But there are situations where it may be necessary," he tells WebMD.

For instance, if the dose the patient needs isn't commercially available, the physician may advise him to split the tablet. Sometimes there are financial reasons, Gaunt says.

Certain medications should not be split, Choe and Gaunt agree. Among them:

  • Pills with an enteric coating such as enteric-coated aspirin. When split, Gaunt says, "it will lose the enteric coating and the enteric coating is what helps prevent the tablet from dissolving in the stomach, so it decreases irritation to the stomach."
  • Time-release or extended-release medicines should not be split, Gaunt says, because it will affect the extended-release characteristics. With the coating destroyed, you could absorb the medicine too quickly.

"If there is not a good reason to split, don't," Gaunt cautions.

Technique, Buying Tips

If you do split -- with your pharmacist's blessing -- be sure to use a medication splitter designed for the purpose, available at pharmacies and sold over the counter, Gaunt says. No kitchen knives allowed, he says.

Invest in a good splitter, Choe advises. In the study, she gave participants two commercially available splitters. She found that those that were a little more expensive -- the mid range, about $5 -- worked better, as did those with rubber matting at the bottom of the device to hold the pill.

  • Have you ever tried splitting pills to save moneyon your drug bill monthly? Did you consult your doctor? We're discussing this and more on our Health Cafe: Meet Your Neighbors message board.
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