Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

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Over-The-Counter Medicines

Cutting, crushing, chewing, opening, or dissolving medicines

Some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be cut, crushed, chewed, opened, or dissolved prior to taking them. But other specific dosage forms of medicines must be swallowed whole and are not safe to cut, crush, chew, or dissolve. These medicines are designed to release an even amount of medicine over a specific period of time in the body. Or, they may have a specially designed coating to prevent stomach irritation. Some lozenges or effervescent tablets are intended to be dissolved in a specific amount of liquid or to be dissolved slowly in the mouth. Medicine that is not meant to be cut, crushed, chewed, or altered may cause harm if it is not taken exactly as instructed on the label. Doing so can affect the way the medicine works and how quickly the medicine is released and absorbed.


Crushing, chewing, or dissolving these tablets also increases the risk of adverse reactions. Injury can range from minor to severe, depending on the type of medicine ingested. Severe injuries are often related to rapid release and absorption of the medicine.


Always read the Drug Facts label to determine how the medicine should be taken. If a specific medicine should not be cut, crushed, chewed, or otherwise altered, a special warning will be provided in the Directions section of the Drug Facts label (Figure 1).

What's in a name? Other clues on the label

As a good rule of thumb, the following slideshow shows examples of descriptions found on the label of a medicine package that mean the medicine should not be cut, crushed, or chewed.

Extended-Release tablets or capsules
  Time Release tablets or capsules
Slow Release tablets or capsules
Sustained Release tablets and capsules
Tablets and capsules that indicate 8, 12, or 24 hours of relief
Tablets that are labeled as Lozenges, which are intended to be dissolved slowly in the mouth
Tablets that are labeled as Effervescent, which are designed to be dissolved in a specific amount of fluid before ingestion
Tablets that are labeled as Safety Coated
Tablets or capsules that are labeled as Enteric Coated
Tablets that are labeled as Comfort Coated
Other key terms that might signal the medicine can't be split, crushed, or chewed:

Controlled Dose
Long Acting
Sustained Action
Time Delayed