Splitting pills

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Americans who rely on expensive drugs to maintain tolerable health are crafty. Many of them have been splitting pills to save money for years.

Why split a prescription drug? Because pills with a 30-milligram dose of medication generally cost only a little more than the same medication in a 15-milligram dose, for example. So splitting a 30-milligram pill results in a cost savings of nearly 50 percent for a 15-milligram dose.

How much money does pill splitting save overall? A lot. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it saved $46.5 million last year by asking more than a million veterans to split one cholesterol drug.

Many doctors and pharmacists have been helping pill takers save money. Doctors frequently advise patients about which pills can be safely split without altering the effectiveness of the medication. And pharmacists can provide much of the same information -- and often offer to split pills for customers who request it.

All of which leads one local pharmacist to wonder why pharmaceutical companies don't recognize that pill-splitting is becoming more and more commonplace. So why don't the makers of the pills sell the 15 milligram-dose pill at a significant savings?

Even the FDA concedes that pill splitting is growing as Americans who rely on medications choose to cut pills in half or not take expensive medications. The FDA cautions that patients should consult their doctors before splitting pills.

The savings created by pill splitting are realized not only by individual patients, but by insurance companies and employers who underwrite health plans for their employees. Some insurance companies are promoting pill splitting by providing devices to made the task easier.

Millions of Americans are looking for ways to cut their medical costs. Pill splitting looks like one of the easiest, as long as patients get good information from their doctors and pharmacists.

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