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If you don't have a pill cutter available, how can you cut a non-scored pill in half?

I've tried a sharp knife, but it only made a mess of the circular pill.

Side note: The above question is regarding non-prescription pills. A QA regarding the safety (or lack thereof) of cutting pills in half is available in the Health SE.

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If the composition of the tablet allows it, the simplest way is to create your own score and then snap it with your hands.

We have to halve potassium citrate effervescent tabs tablets at my job (hospital pharmacy), and they're far too big to fit into a pill splitter. The best method we've found is to use a scalpel, and create a thin score along the tablet. Then, we put on gloves and break it by hand.

To create the score, we just drag the scalpel in a straight line across the tablet once or twice, right down the middle. It works quite well. The score doesn't need to be deep; you just need to create a "guide" for the tablet to fracture along when you snap it. Once you've scored it, rest your thumbs on either side of the score, pinch the tablet, and try to snap it. We use gloves since we're handling patient's medication, but if it's for yourself, clean hands should suffice unless you really want to be careful.

While this method is effective, is has some things to note:

  • Obviously you will lose some drug when you score it. We use a scalpel that's incredibly thin and sharp, so our loss is minimal.

  • This doesn't work well for small tablets, unless you have tiny hands (so your fingers can actually grip the tablet). It's far more difficult to get the required leverage on smaller tablets. Also for smaller tablets, the loss due to scoring will also be higher; relative to the size of the tablet.

  • The makeup of the tablet will decide how well this works. Some tablets crumble if you look at them for too long. The force required to snap a tablet may cause it to just fall apart instead of breaking cleanly. You'll need to experiment a bit to figure out if this is a feasible method for the tablet in question.

  • The OP specified non-perscription drugs, but I'll say it anyways to cover my butt: make sure the drug you're splitting can be safely split. Splitting tablets increase their surface area which affects absorption. Splitting can also affect absorption if the tablet is a long acting version. I work under the supervision of a pharmacist, but anyone doing this at home should learn about the drug prior to manipulating it.

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  • +1 for managing to get a reference to "scoring drugs" in such an innocent answer ;) – Tetsujin Nov 20 '16 at 20:30
  • @Tetsujin Rofl. I work in a pharmacy, so I don't want to say anything that might come back and bite me later. – Carcigenicate Nov 20 '16 at 20:33
  • Wow! Thanks. I tried this and I couldn't believe how well it worked! – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Nov 21 '16 at 20:43
  • @RockPaperLizard Ya, the key is really just to create a guide for it to snap along when you "bend it". With a good knife, this is probably easier than using a splitter (I hate splitters though; they don't set the bar very high). – Carcigenicate Nov 21 '16 at 20:55
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    @RockPaperLizard Never used a serrated knife for this, but I'm going to have to disagree with Brett here. I imagine a serrated knife will dig out a lot of the drug; a lot more than necessary. I know straight knife works, so unless you only have a serrated one, I wouldn't use it. – Carcigenicate Nov 21 '16 at 21:20
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I have some very hard pills, and scoring them just doesn't help that much. The way I split them works better:

Start by scoring the pills. Next, straighten out a staple, paper clip, or piece of wire, and tape it to the table so it doesn't move around. Place a pill on top of the wire so it's balanced, scored side up, with the score going right over the wire. Press down on each side of the pill with your thumbs. The wire acts as a fulcrum and the pill splits.

wire

To make this easier, there are two possible improvements. First, you may noticed that the pill won't balance on the wire unless you hold it. This balance problem may be remedied by providing a flexible but flat surface for the pill to sit on. Lining the wire on each side with a paper towel (folded in half if needed) is sufficient. The paper towel will act as a flat surface which can hold the pill, but when you apply force, the tissue will compress but the wire will not. The pill still breaks.

help the pill balance with pieces of tissue

You may notice that for a small and hard pill, it's still difficult to apply enough force without hurting your thumbs. If you have a wooden dowel or thick stick and a saw or sharp blade, you can cut a notch into one end of the dowel. Press the dowel down into the pill so that the notch is over the score, protecting it from force. All the force is directed at the sides of the pill. When I press down on the dowel, the pill usually snaps quite easily.

Press down on the pill with a notched wooden piston

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  • Interesting. Yes, some tablets are so tough that simple scoring isn't sufficient. Luckily for us, we have yet to have such a tablet that doesn't fit in a splitter. – Carcigenicate Jun 23 '19 at 22:37
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I use a nail clipper!

enter image description here

It is necessary to separate its parts :

enter image description here

Finally, open it (by force) til the pill fits and press it really hard :

enter image description here

The other half of the pill is in my stomach :)

As you can see, this caffeine/thiamine pill didn't crumble, maybe other types would.

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  • Thanks Jose! That's very clever, and especially useful when you are traveling. I'd like to point out that straight-edge toenail clippers are available that don't have a round curve to them. These might even work a little better, and be a little more accurate. Thanks again. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Feb 3 at 22:53
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Nail scissors for dogs/cats. The pills that I am cutting in half are tiny, round and hard as rocks. This method of using nail scissors for dogs/cats works like a charm every time.

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I find splitting pills to be tedious and unsatisfactory because most shatter into tiny pieces no matter what. That said, I have found single edge razor blades in a scraper type holder to be the most effective, and I use rubber coated tweezers to hold the pill still (push the pill up towards the joint until it is nice and tightly held in place). Tweezer also helps to keep the shattered parts from splattering everywhere. (All items purchased at Harbor Freight.)

The pill splitters are ineffective after 6-12 uses with the meds I must cut- they become dull and corroded and shatter the pills even more until they must be discarded. So single edged blades are much cheaper than buying a new cutter every week or so. I also wipe the blades down before and after use with 91% alcohol; it seems to help them last longer.

But... It is all such a waste of time money and effort!

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Granting that the OP has posted a link and comment in their question that splitting pills may or may not be a good idea.

Rather then try to physically split the pill in half, dissolve it in water.

Use an oral syringe and put a specific amount of water (i.e. 0.5CC) in a small bowl or cup. Let the pill soak for a couple of minutes,

if it does not start to dissolve then it is coated to delivery the product to a specific area of the gut, it should only be swallowed whole. It should not be split, find the correct dosage in a single pill.

If it does start to dissolve, use a spoon to crush and mix it into the water. Stir until well mixed. Use two oral syringes to collect the drug/pill in the water, in two equal doses. Depending on what the drug/pill is it may or may not be safe to use the second dose in a specific amount of time. Use the syringe to put the drug/pill suspension in the mouth of the person/pet and follow with good tasting fluids be aware of possible interactions and choose your fluid wisely.

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If you need more precision, and if the pill ingredient can allow it

  • dissolve the pill in 100 ml (0.1 litre) of clean water
  • in a measuring flask / bottle

then when you need to drink some of it, it will be easy to use exactly only the right proportion.

Shake the bottle to mix water and the pill ingredient. Drink 50 ml to absorb 50% of the medication.

Some measuring bottles

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I would recommend a serrated knife. "Saw" through the pill while apply pressure gently. It make take time, but the lack of pressure should prevent the pill from crumbling.

Note that some pills are coated to protect you from the taste of the actual medicine. Cutting a pill in half exposes the medicine inside, which may taste horrible!

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Tried all of the other answers, they did not work. My pill did not have a serrated edge on it and crumbled when I used a sharp knife and a pill cutter. So , being the pill cutting genius I am, my Mom and I decided we would try something a little unconventional. I lit part of a sharp serrated knife and then lightly cut into the pill, making almost my own serrated groove. I let it cool off and then applied EVEN pressure to the pill and BOOM! I have an evenly cut pill.

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  • You may have misread the answer by @BrettFromLA, that answer suggest what you wrote, use a knife with a serrated edge.... – Willeke Feb 10 '18 at 12:57
  • What do you mean you "lit" the knife? I really hope you don't mean you heated the blade. And yes, this is basically my and Brett's answer. – Carcigenicate Feb 10 '18 at 14:00
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Just use Scissors to cut the pill sharp ones that are thin but strong I use stainless steel ones but idk if it matters it just cut right in half with little to no effort no need to make it into rocket science.

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The fastest way is to put it between my front incisor teeth and bite of the required amount. It took practice, but I'm pretty good at biting in halves, thirds, or quarters. Oblong pills are the easiest to judge. With the pill part to bite off inside the teeth, you can judge very well how much is protruding with the tip of your tongue.

For instance, I ran out of 81 mg St. Joseph aspirin pills, so I take the std size, oblong 325 mg size and easily bite off a third of it. That's no critical. It's pretty easy to judge half a pill of any shape, and from a half, to a fourth. Enjoy!

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If the pills come in a blister pack cut them before removing from the blister pack

Turn the pack so the blisters are pointing up, gently press the blister in around the pill so you can see its outline and it is held in place by the compressed blister. Then, take a short, sharp knife, position it in the middle of the pill, hold the blister pack down with your other hand and then press firmly to cut the pill in half. You can then remove the halves separately by pressing out in the usual way.

I find this method substantially easier than attempting to cut the pill after removal, and it also prevents a section of the pill shooting off due to the force of the cut.

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