12 September 2007

Profit-maximizing with a jagged little pill

If you have waited in line at a pharmacy or had to pay full price for prescription meds, you have probably thought about pill splitting. Pill splitting is an attractive decision because drugs of various strengths often cost about the same per pill (compare prices here).

But why do drug companies charge the same amount for 10 mg of Allegra as they do for 20 mg? Regardless of why they charge the same amount, the company is certainly looking to make a profit. Therefore if you are cutting their 20 mg pill to make twice as many 10 mg pills, you are cutting into their profits. For some drugs, drug companies actually help the consumer cut pills by manufacturing the pill with a groove where it can be cut more easily be cut in two. Most likely these are drugs that face fierce competition and the added groove is a much needed selling point to stay competitive. I would predict more grooves in medicines that are no long under patent protection.

But, not surprisingly, drug companies have also devised ways to overcome pill cutting. One is to have a special coating or capsule around the drug to render it less effective when split (pehaps the gel capsule or a time release capsule). The other is to increase the difficulty in splitting the pill by not grooving it or by making it an awkward shape with a slippery coating. I would suggest an unsymmetrical shape that is difficult to divide in half. I would predict more of these types of pills when the drug faces little competition.

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