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Pill Crushing: Is There a Safe Method?

Millions of Americans receive prescriptions for all kinds of medications every year, and these range from antibiotics to antidepressants to painkillers. Prescription drugs are an extremely important part of treating numerous conditions, including short-term infections, chronic pain, cancer, mental illness, and much more. However, because so many drugs are prescribed, thousands of prescriptions are misused or abused.

The Misuse of Prescription Medication Includes Tampering

Prescription drug misuse covers a wide range of behaviors toward prescriptions that can cause problems. For example, failing to finish a course of antibiotics can lead to recurring infections while taking too much of a painkiller can lead to addiction. Mixing prescriptions with each other or with alcohol can lead to an overdose.

Tampering with medications is one form of prescription drug misuse. Most people who crush pills do so for an obvious reason; taking a large pill is literally hard to swallow. Some doctors will work with their patients to prescribe a dose that is safe to crush if the person has trouble swallowing for any reason; however, crushing any prescription drug just to make it easier to swallow can be extremely dangerous.

This is because prescription medications often have inactive ingredients or other active ingredients that are formulated in a specific way so all the chemicals will work together and release the medication safely. Tampering with a pill’s delivery method can change how these drugs work in the body. For drugs like benzodiazepines, opioids, and prescription stimulants, this means that a person who crushes the drug will experience more side effects and potentially greater intoxication.

Types of medications that should not be crushed include:

  • Controlled Release (CR)
  • Sustained Release (SR)
  • Controlled Dose (CD)
  • Time Delayed (TD)
  • Time Released (TR)
  • Extended Release (ER, XR, or XL)
  • Sustained Action (SA)

If a drug has these letters in the name, it means that the medication was formulated in a specific way – usually to be digested by the stomach and intestines and released in a specific amount of time into the body.

Immediate-release drugs may be safer to crush, but it is still extremely important to ask the prescribing doctor first. Even crushing these can be harmful, especially if they are not taken orally but are instead snorted.

Why Is It Dangerous to Crush and Snort Prescription Drugs?

Crushing pills, like oxycodone or hydrocodone, and snorting them is a serious form of drug abuse. When these drugs are crushed, ingredients meant to time the release of the substance are bypassed. When they are snorted, the mucous membranes absorb the substance much faster than the digestive tract will. Although this means that intoxication occurs faster, it also means that addiction, tolerance, dependence, and overdose are also much more likely.

Snorting drugs can have serious physical consequences, too, including:

  • Damage to the nose, throat, and lungs
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Septal perforation, or damage to the lining between the nostrils leading to holes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Increased intoxication and risk of overdose

Getting a drug into the bloodstream and to the brain faster is extremely dangerous. Heart failure, respiratory arrest, seizures, confusion, delirium, memory loss, and loss of motor function are just a few potential side effects of becoming rapidly intoxicated.

When Pills Can Be Safely Crushed

People who need to crush their pills should ask the prescribing physician for the best procedure. Also, ask if it is safe for other people to be around these pills when they are crushed. For example, airborne particles of potent opioid drugs could cause accidental intoxication in young children. The doctor may offer specific approaches to crushing pills, which will usually include mixing them with a beverage or food, or they may recommend ways to safely reduce the size of the pill, such as a pill splitter, to make taking the dose easier while keeping it safe.

Crushing Potent Medications and Overdose

A rapid increase of opioid addiction, overdose, and death has plagued the United States for nearly 20 years. Pharmaceutical companies have attempted to create painkillers that are less likely to be abused. Drugs like Zohydro and Opana have come under fire because people who struggle with addiction still abuse these medications by tampering with them, although they are allegedly tamperproof.

It is important to know that any prescription medication, but especially addictive drugs like benzodiazepines, opioids, depressants, and stimulants, are risky if they are not taken as prescribed by a medical professional. Taking these in any way outside the prescription method can lead to intoxication, abuse, overdose, or dependence. Anyone who needs special concessions may benefit from other formulas of drugs, like liquid or injectable treatments.

Crushing pills is a sign of substance abuse. Loved ones who struggle with addiction to prescription drugs need help, especially if they have started crushing these drugs for more rapid intoxication.