How to Crush Pills

The Right Way (and the Wrong Way)

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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. Luckily there are few options available for those who do have trouble swallowing pills.

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 if your prescribed medication can be crushed in the first place.

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

Why You Shouldn't Crush Medication

It's imperative that you know your medication is safe enough to crush. The pharmacist should place a sticker on the pill bottle that blatantly advises against crushing. Even if you don't see a warning label, you should still ask whether or not it's safe.

Crushing pills is 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.

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).

Oftentimes the medication you need is 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.

How to Crush Medication

If you know your medication can be safely crushed, there are three ways to go about crushing it: by using a pill crusher, a pill splitter or mortar and pestle:

  • A pill crusher is the easiest way to crush pills. 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.
  • 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 splitters in drugstores and online.
  • An old fashioned mortar and pestle is an inexpensive tool you might already have in your kitchen. You can 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 with 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.

    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 here. The crushing can make holes in the plastic bag and you could end up losing your medication.

    The crushed up medication will also collect in the corners of the bag, making it difficult to get every bit of medication out. Many people that this method leaves more chunky pill fragments, rather than a power. It's also a lot more time consuming than using a pill crusher or mortar and pestle.

    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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