2010-01-06 / Seniors

When Is Pill Splitting Safe?

Dear Savvy Senior,

Is pill splitting safe? I have several friends who split their prescription pills to save money, and several who don’t because they don’t think it’s safe. What can you tell me?

Split Decision

Dear Decision:

Splitting your pills––literally cutting them in half––is a simple way to save money on your prescription drugs, but be sure you talk to your doctor first, because not all pills can be split. Here’s what you should know.

Savings and Safety

The reason pill splitting is such a cost cutter is because of a quirk in the way drugs are manufactured and priced. A pill that’s twice as strong as another may not be twice the price. In fact, it’s usually about the same price. So, buying a double-strength dose and cutting it in half may allow you to get two months worth of medicine for the price of one. But is it safe? As long as your doctor agrees that splitting your pills is OK for you, you learn how to do it properly, and you split only pills that can be split, there’s really no danger.

What to Do

If you’re interested in pill splitting, the first step is to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if any of the medicines you use can be safely split. It’s also important to find out whether splitting them will save you enough money to justify the hassle.

The pills that are easiest to split are those with a score down the middle. However, not every pill that’s scored is meant to be split. Pills that are most commonly split include:

• Cholesterol lowering drugs, like Crestor, Lipitor, and Pravachol

• Antidepressants, like Celexa, Paxil, and Zoloft

• High blood pressure medicines, like Monopril, Prinivil, Univasc, Zestril, Avapro and Cozaar.

• Erectile dysfunction pills, like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra

Having the right equipment helps too. Don’t use a knife to cut your pills in half. It can cause you to split them unevenly, resulting in two pieces with very different dosages, which can be dangerous. Purchase a proper pill cutter. They cost around only $5 to $10 and are available at most pharmacies and large discount stores.

For convenience, you might be tempted to split the whole bottle of pills at once. But check with your doctor first. It’s possible that exposing the interior of the pills to the air could reduce their effectiveness. It’s also important to know that pills are safely split only in half, and never into smaller portions such as into thirds or quarters.

Unsafe Splitting

Many medicines, because of their ingredients or design, cannot be split safely. Here’s a list of pills that should not be split:

• Blood thinners (Coumadin, warfarin). • Chemotherapy drugs. • Anti-seizure medicines.

• Birth control pills.

• Capsules of any kind that contain powders or gels.

• Pills with a hard outside coating.

• Extended-release pills that deliver medication over time in your body.

• Pills that are coated to protect your stomach.

• Pills that crumble easily, irritate your mouth, or taste bitter.

Again, your doctor or pharmacist will know which drugs can and cannot be split. If you’re taking a medicine that can be split, you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor for twice the dosage you need. Then you can start splitting and saving safely.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to “The NBC Today Show” and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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