What's the Best Way to Crush Pills?

The Right Way (and the Wrong Way)—and How to Make Sure It's Safe

Overturned Pill Bottle
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For those who have difficulty swallowing medication, being prescribed pills can be downright dreadful. Some people have a natural aversion to swallowing pills, especially children. If you're one of those people, you might be tempted to crush your medication to make it easier to swallow. 

A word of precaution: Before you do anything, it's important to know that not all pills are suitable for crushing.

 You should always ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your prescribed medication can be crushed in the first place. 

You should also ask whether it is safe for others to crush your medication. When some pills are crushed, the residue becomes airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs. With some medications, this can cause adverse effects on a person's health.

If you can't crush your medication, don't worry. First off, there are tips that you can try that may make swallowing pills easier for you. Or, keep in mind: The medication that you need may also available as a liquid, patch, injection, or some other alternative that doesn't include swallowing a pill. Talk to your doctor about other options.

Why You Shouldn't Crush All Pills

It's imperative that you know that your medication is safe enough to crush. If it is not safe to crush a medication, the pharmacist should place a sticker on the pill bottle that blatantly advises against crushing.

But even if you don't see a warning label, you should still ask your doctor whether or not it's safe.

Crushing pills can sometimes be dangerous for a few reasons. Some pills are specially coated so they can't be released into your stomach where they could cause an adverse reaction. Other long-acting medicines have certain coatings and ingredients that are used to gradually distribute the medication to your body over time.

If a pill like this is crushed, it disrupts the way it's supposed to work. The medication could be released into the body too quickly, which could cause serious side effects—including death.

Read Labels Carefully

In addition to talking to your doctor or pharmacist about pill safety, you should also advocate for yourself or the person for whom you are caring. Thoroughly read labels. According to Institute for Safe Medication Practices, many long-acting medications have drug names that end with a two-letter suffix, such as XR (extended release), SR (sustained release), CD (controlled dosing), and LA (long-acting).

The Best Ways to Crush Pills

If you know that your medication can be safely crushed, these are the three best ways to crush pills.

  • Pill crusher: The easiest way to crush pills is to use a pill crusher. It works by pulverizing pills into a powdery substance that can be mixed with food or a beverage. Using a pill crusher is very simple and requires little physical effort. Plus, the process is very time efficient: Most pills are relatively small and take mere seconds to crush.
  • Pill splitter: If you are taking large pills that are difficult to swallow and cannot be crushed, a pill splitter may be the solution for you. A pill splitter allows you safely cut a pill in two, making it easier to swallow. You can buy both pill crushers and pill splitters in drugstores and online.
  • Mortar and pestle: An old-fashioned mortar and pestle is an inexpensive tool that you might already have in your kitchen. (It's that heavy bowl and thick stick that are often used to make an avocado spread or guacamole.) You can use this to safely grind and mash your pills into powder form. This method requires a little more time and physical effort than a pill crusher. It's not very user-friendly for those who have arthritis or other joint conditions in the hands and wrist, as you have to apply pressure as you twist and turn the pestle. Don't forget to thoroughly wash the mortar and pestle after using it for crushing medication. However, if you already have a mortar and pestle in your home for preparing food, then using one may save you money, since you may not need to buy a pill crusher. 

    How Not to Crush Pills

    Some people feel tempted to crush their medication by placing pills inside a plastic bag and bludgeoning them with a hammer or other heavy object, but there are so many things that can go wrong when using that method.

    • It can make holes in the plastic bag and you could end up losing some or all of your medication, which can mess up your dosing.
    • The crushed-up medication will collect in the corners of the bag, making it difficult to get every bit of medication out.
    • It may leave you with chunky pill fragments, rather than a smooth powder.
    • It's a lot more time-consuming than using one of the other methods above.

    Sources:

    Cohen, M. R., R.Ph. (2013, October 17). Certain medicines should never be crushed or chewed. Retrieved February 09, 2016, from http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthcare/Certain-medicines-should-never-be-crushed-or-chewed.html

    http://www.ismp.org/Tools/drugnamesuffixes.pdf

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