NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pill Splitting Can Save Money On Prescription Drugs

August 1, 2001

There's a way to cut prescription drug costs in half that few consumers -- or even few doctors -- know about: buying bigger pills and cutting them in half.

Pill splitting is made possible by a quirk in the way drugs are manufactured and priced. Drugs cost about the same per pill, regardless of the dosage. As a result, patients who buy a larger pill that contains twice the dose they need can cut it in half and save as much as 50 percent. For example:

  • Merck's cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor costs about $3.94 a pill whether the dose is for 20 or 40 milligrams.
  • A patient who needs a 20-milligram daily dose can cut a 40-milligram pill in half, dropping the cost to $1.97, saving more than $700 annually.
  • A patient taking a 75-milligram daily dose of Pfizer's antidepressant Zoloft would pay $6.66 for three 25-milligram pills.
  • However, splitting a combination of 100- and 50-milligram pills to achieve a 75-milligram dose lowers the cost to just $2.53 - a savings of 62 percent, or $1,500 annually.

Some pills can't be split, such as capsules or extended-release tablets. Halving an extended release tablet could cause the patient to get either no medicine or the entire dose all at once. And doctors warn that drugs for certain serious conditions, such as those that prevent seizures or regulate heart rhythm shouldn't be split.

And pharmaceuticals executives say pill splitting could be dangerous because consumers may become confused and end up splitting the wrong pills.

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, "Pill Splitting Is Simple Way To Save Money On Drugs," Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2001.

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