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How to Break a Blockbuster Drug in Half

Man invents device to cut odd-shaped Viagra pill

THURSDAY, Dec. 5, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- When it comes to Viagra, amorosity is the mother of invention.

The diamond-shaped erection pill costs the same (almost $10 each) whether you get the 25-milligram, 50-milligram or 100-milligram version. This flat-pricing strategy has led many in the over-50 crowd to buy the larger pill and try breaking it up into smaller pieces.

"The patient should be taking a drug based on the dosage recommended by the physician," says Dr. Ira Sharlip, president of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America. "But I can tell you it's common practice for physicians to recommend a dose of 50 milligrams and write a prescription for a 100-milligram tablet."

The ploy could double your fun, but try turned out to be the operative word.

Carmen Reitano, 71, an inventor and Viagra user, was changing in the locker room of his gym not too long ago when the conversation turned to the hazards and difficulties of pill-splitting.

"It explodes," complained one man.

"You can't split it," said another.

"You cut it with a knife and it splits apart with such fury it bounces off the wall, then you have to go find the pieces," said a third.

Reitano had never tried splitting his Viagra pills even though his insurance company only prescribed four a month. After hearing the boys talk, though, he decided to give it a whirl. He went home, took out the kitchen knife and tried to cut open one of his Viagra pills. Nothing happened. He went at it with an X-acto knife blade. Nothing. A hammer. Still, nothing.

Sharlip says his patients have been able to cut their Viagra with store-bought pill-splitters, "and they've worked." However, many others insist the odd-shaped drug doesn't come apart easily.

"The conclusion you come to is that it was purposefully designed to resist splitting," Reitano says. "It's not flat. It's awkward to hold. There's no scoring on the covering." He also discovered that the internal medication is not always bound into a solid block, which is why would-be splitters report that it explodes or breaks apart.

Reitano, who holds several patents, was not to be dissuaded. "It struck me that this pill is made just like wallboard," he says. "It has plaster encapsulated in construction paper. And the way you break that is you score one side and you hit it on the other and it breaks on the fault line."

With this principle in mind, Reitano used standard PVC pipe fitting fixtures to assemble a prototype and took it to the firm that had manufactured one of his other products, an antenna protector for the Motorola StarTAC cell phone. The company built a prototype, tested it, and, lo and behold, it worked.

On Nov. 5, Reitano was awarded patent No. 6,474,525 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for his "pill splitter for complex pill forms." The actual product, the V2 Pill Splitter, is available in two sizes: the 50-milligram pill and the 100-milligram pill.

Now Reitano, who has been married to the same woman for 47 years, is a splitter. And the ranks are growing as men from all over the world purchase the item (for $24.95) directly from Reitano's Web site, www.v2pillsplitter.com. Pfizer, which manufactures Viagra, did not return a call for comment. However, the company recommends against pill-splitting on its Web site.

A Boston urologist told Reitano that more than half of his patients are now splitting pills (after asking the doctor for permission, of course). And a man from New York City called Reitano to tell him that the pill splitter was saving him $1,000 a year. "God bless you," Reitano responded.

What To Do

You can get a primer on erectile dysfunction from the National Institutes of Health. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on Viagra.

SOURCES: Carmen Reitano, founder and president, Three Chestnuts Technologies Inc., Newburyport, Mass.; Ira Sharlip, M.D., president, Sexual Medicine Society of North America, and urologist, San Francisco; U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
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