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Why Splitting Prescriptions Is a Bad Idea

Almost everyone thinks that the prices of prescriptions drugs are getting too high.  In just the past year, prices of prescription medications rose 8 percent, primarily due to the entry of some high-priced brand name products.  This far exceeds general inflation which is less than 2 percent, or even health care price inflation which is about 2.2 percent.

If you are on a medication prescribed by your doctor, you are expected to take a certain dosage at set times. However, more people are ignoring this regimen and splitting their prescriptions in an effort to save a few dollars.  In some cases, it might be appropriate to halve a pill, but in most circumstances, you are probably harming yourself by taking less than the recommended amount.

The High Cost of Prescriptions Drugs

For many years, the prescription drug industry claimed that the reason why prices were so high because it cost so much to research and develop new drugs. However, these arguments have been undermined in recent years as pharmaceutical companies have posted record earnings.  The industry has also come under intense scrutiny and criticism in the wake of some highly publicized price jumps of products like the epinephrine injector EpiPen. A research study by Global Data found that 90 percent of large drug companies spend more on marketing than they do on research and development.

A recent study published in JAMA found that the primary reason why prescription drug prices were so high in the U.S. was the penchant for consumers to buy more expensive brand name drugs.  Although much cheaper generic drugs make up almost 90 percent of the market, the steep price of many proprietary medications inflate the market.

The High Cost of Prescriptions Drugs

The U.S. has many systemic issues that allow such high prices on prescription drugs. First of all, the government is not allowed to negotiate with drug makers, so manufacturers can effectively set their pricess.

This is compounded by a patent system that gives manufacturers more than 12 years of sole ownership of a drug. This creates monopolies on key drugs, allowing manufacturers to set unreasonably high prices. Although generic drugs do become available eventually, this is often delayed by a slow-moving approval process.

Prescription drug prices are higher in the U.S. than in any other nation, because unlike in most other countries, the U.S. government does not regulate the drug market.  There may be substantial investment costs, but drug companies often recoup those costs in just the first years.  After that the company is making almost pure profit. Without any regulatory limits, companies can set almost any price they want on their products. That is why five out of the six most profitable companies in the U.S. are pharmaceutical companies.

Unfortunately, this greed on the part of drug makers has pushed up the cost of health care in the U.S.  Now, one out of every ten dollars spent on health care goes toward prescription drugs, and this ratio is only expected to grow in the coming years.

The Dangers of Splitting Pills

Given the rapidly rising costs of prescription drugs, it is not surprising that so many people are trying to cut corners, including splitting prescriptions. You may be saving a few dollars in the short term, but you should know that there are some serious risks associated with skipping dosages.

Most importantly, going without your medication may put your health at risk. Many drugs produce immediate physiological changes that your body may require to keep functioning.  For example, a blood thinning medication prevents the creation of blood clots which can cause fatal events like strokes or thromboses.

Why Splitting Prescriptions Is a Bad Idea
Iryna Imago/

Furthermore, consistently missing your full dose of medication may produce long-term damage to your health. A key example is diabetic medications like insulin; if you ignore your doctor’s orders and stop taking your insulin, missing doses, or cutting your dosages; you could slip into a coma or die, but there are many other long-term issues like blindness and circulatory problems which could lead to limb amputation.

Many people find that pill-splitting a higher dose of medication can save them money. If your physician is willing, he can prescribe a pill that is double the strength that you require.  Because you probably won’t pay twice the price, you save money by only taking half of a pill at a time.

The actual act of cutting a pill in half is inexact and can lead to health complications, however. Whether you use your hands, a butter knife, or a pill-splitter, you could get two unequal halves. This means that at one point, you might be getting less than your doctor-recommended dosage, and at the next, you are getting an overdose. That is why the American Medical Association, American Pharmaceutical Association and American Society of Consultant Pharmacists all oppose the practice of pill-splitting.

Some pills are labeled XL, SR, or XR, which signify that they are extended release, slow release or enteric coated. These specially designed to release medicine throughout the day or only upon reaching the intestine.  If you cut these pills, you may interfere with their action, putting too much into your bloodstream or the wrong part of your body.

How to Safely Save Money on Prescription Drugs

If you want to save money on your prescription medications without putting your health at risk, you may want to consider some of the following:

  • Request samples from your physician
  • Ask your doctor for discount coupons
  • Ask for a prescription for the generic version
  • Investigate if the drug maker offers discounts
  • Shop around at different pharmacies (non-chain pharmacies usually offer the lowest prices)
  • Check the cost of a drug (if it is less than the co-payment, you may want to leave your insurance out of the transaction)
  • Search for prescription assistance programs in your area
  • Discuss all of your medications with your doctor to see if there are any cheaper alternatives

If you would like to learn more about how to save money on your prescription medications, please visit Boost Health Insurance.

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