What are Controlled-Release Drugs?


Controlled-release drugs are medications that have been manufactured to release a small amount continually over a period of time, often 12 or 24 hours. They’re available in both rapid or slow forms and have been around for more than a half-century, as ScienceDirect notes. One example is Diffucaps which are available in various forms, from a capsule to a rapidly disintegrating tablet, with a dissolution profile and adjustable dosage strength.

Extended-Release (XR) medications are one of the most common types of controlled-release drugs. As one of the biggest downsides of most drugs is the side effects, they help to address this issue. After a dose of most medications, the amount in one’s bloodstream tends to spike quickly, and then within a few hours, it’s flushed away. That means the amount of the drug in the body varies at any given point in time, and the spike can mean severe side effects. They’re usually taken once per day to provide a therapeutic dose at a steady level and for a longer period of time.

How XR Medications Work

Medications are typically broken down by the kidneys or liver, which means after taking a dose, the body will naturally begin to clear it from the system. They usually have mixers or special coatings that make the drug take longer to clear out of the body than a standard immediate-release drug.

Pros and Cons of Controlled-Release XR DrugsĀ 

As with most things, there are pros and cons of Controlled-Release XR medications to consider. There are definite advantages to having drugs delivered through this method and some instances where they may not be advantageously delivered this way.

1Reduced Dosage Frequency.

When patients have to take medication(s) several times a day, there’s an increased likelihood that they’ll miss a dose. With many drugs, multiple doses are required, but with a controlled-release, extended version, oftentimes, it can be taken just once a day.

2Discouraging Dependency.

Extended-release pills can also be used to discourage dependency, especially when there is significant potential for abuse, such as with opioid painkillers. Standard opioids can cause a euphoric high, especially when taken in higher doses that cause many to abuse them. However, while extended-release options might produce a high, it isn’t nearly as powerful as the drug is gradually released into the system.

3High Cost.

Cost can be a big disadvantage over extended-release medications as instantly released drugs tend to be much cheaper.

4Slower to Act.

Extended-release formulations often have a slower onset of action which means they can’t immediately address the pain and should not be used when it’s acute.

Should You Take a Controlled-Release XR Drug?

If you’re taking prescription medications on a daily basis, it’s important to work with your healthcare providers to ensure you’re getting the best form of the drug for you. That might mean getting blood tests and tracking side effects to determine the optimal method. In some rare cases, the body cannot break down ingredients or coatings quickly enough to hit the ideal targeted therapeutic level. If you switch to a controlled-release XR drug and it doesn’t seem as if it’s working, it’s important to speak with your doctor as changes may be necessary.


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