There are multiple reasons for crushing tablets or capsule contents before administering medications, but there are numerous medications that should not be crushed. These medications should not be chewed, either, usually due to their specific formulations and their pharmacokinetic properties.1 Most of the no-crush medications are sustained-release, oral-dosage formulas. The majority of extended-release products should not be crushed or chewed, although there are some newer slow-release tablet formulations available that are scored and can be divided or halved (e.g., Toprol XL).
A common reason for crushing a tablet or capsule is for use by a hospitalized patient with an enteral feeding tube. A recent review in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy provides more details about administering medications in patients with enteral feeding tubes.2 Oral solutions can be used when commercially available and medically appropriate. If an oral solution or suspension is not available, the hospital pharmacy should be consulted to determine if a liquid formulation of the product can be extemporaneously prepared. In some cases, after careful consideration of compatibility, stability, and drug absorption changes, an injectable formulation of a product may be used. You should always consult your hospital pharmacist for information on this modality of drug administration.
Some patients have difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules; some dislike the taste. In these cases, crushing of medication for powdered delivery (to be mixed with food or beverages) should be considered. But beware of certain caveats, as not all medications are suitable for crushing. Generally, meds that should not be crushed fall into one of these categories:
- Sustained-release tablets, which can be composed of multiple layers for different drug release times, as can beads within capsules. Some of the more common prefixes or suffixes for sustained-release, controlled-release, or controlled-delivery products include: 12-hour, 24-hour, CC, CD, CR, ER, LA, Retard, SA, Slo-, SR, XL, XR, or XT.
- Enteric-coated tablets, which are formulated because certain drugs can be irritating to the stomach or are degraded by stomach acid. By enteric-coating tablets or capsule beads, the drug’s release can be delayed until it reaches the small intestine. Prefixes include EN- and EC-.
Other medications have objectionable tastes and are sugar-coated to improve tolerability. If this type of medication is crushed, the patient would be subject to its unpleasant taste, which could significantly impair medication adherence. Additionally, both sublingual and effervescent medications should not be crushed because it will decrease the medication’s effectiveness.
Hospital Pharmacy publishes a wall chart that includes many of these types of formulations, along with their do’s and don’ts. If there is ever any doubt about the best way to administer a particular product or whether it can be halved or crushed, ask your pharmacist.3 TH
Michele B. Kaufman, PharmD, BSc, RPh, is a freelance medical writer based in New York City.