BACKGROUND: Tablet splitting is a well-established medical practice in clinical settings for multiple reasons, including cost savings and ease of swallowing. However, it does not necessarily result in weight-uniform half tablets.
OBJECTIVES: To (a) investigate the effect of tablet characteristics on weight and content uniformity of half tablets, resulting from splitting 16 commonly used medications in the outpatient setting and (b) provide recommendations for safe tablet-splitting prescribing practices.
METHODS: Ten random tablets from each of the selected medications were weighed and split by 5 volunteers (2 men and 3 women aged 25-44 years) using a knife. The selected medications were mirtazapine 30 mg, bromazepam 3 mg, oxcarbazepin 150 mg, sertraline 50 mg, carvedilol 25 mg, bisoprolol fumarate 10 mg, losartan 50 mg, digoxin 0.25 mg, amiodarone HCl 200 mg, metformin HCl 1,000 mg, glimepiride 4 mg, montelukast 10 mg, ibuprofen 600 mg, celecoxib 200 mg, meloxicam 15 mg, and sildenafil citrate 50 mg. The resulting half tablets were evaluated for weight and drug content uniformity in accordance with proxy United States Pharmacopeia (USP) specification (95%-105% for digoxin and 90%-110% for the other 15 drugs). Weight and drug content uniformity were assessed by comparing weight or drug content of the half tablets with one-half of the mean weight or drug content for all whole tablets in the sample. The percentages by which the weight and drug content of each whole tablet or half tablet differed from sample mean values were calculated. Other relevant physical characteristics of the 16 products were measured.
RESULTS: A total of 52 of 320 half tablets (16.2%) and 48 of 320 half tablets (15.0%) fell outside of the proxy USP specification for weight and drug content, respectively. Bromazepam, carvedilol, bisoprolol, losartan, digoxin, and meloxicam half tablets failed the weight and content uniformity test; however, the half tablets for the rest of the medications passed the test. Mean percent weight loss after splitting was less than 1.5% for all drugs. Bromazepam, carvedilol, and digoxin showed the highest powdering loss during the tablet-splitting process.
CONCLUSIONS: Tablet splitting could be safer and easier when drug- and patient-specific criteria have been met. Tablet size, shape, and hardness may also play a role in the decision to split a tablet or not. Tablets containing drugs with a wide therapeutic index and long half-life might be more suitable candidates for division. Dose variation exceeded a proxy USP specification for more than one-third of sampled half tablets of bromazepam, carvedilol, bisoprolol, and digoxin. Drug content variation in half tablets appeared to be attributed to weight variation due to fragment or powder loss during the splitting process.