All Oral Drugs Cannot Be Sweet: A Pharmacist’s Explanation

The average person is definitely not a fan of taking drugs orally and the reason is simple, no one enjoys popping bitter and terrible smelling pills into their mouths.

The phrase ”A bitter pill to swallow” captures this succinctly, it’s a real struggle I must admit.

Various illnesses force us to and the most common response is to take them for the shortest time possible and this is one of the reasons a lot of people don’t finish their dosage regimens.

Several coping mechanisms have come into play to avoid the bitter tastes of these medications. Funny as some of them may sound, they range from using sweet soft drinks to placing them in morsels of eba or pounded yam.

According to this WebMd article most drugs are bitter cause they are plant based and require a lot of special formulation to be made more easier to swallow.

This begs the question some patients have kept asking over the years. Why can’t all drugs be sweetened like the popular colored Vitamin C?

Here are 3 possible reasons….

Cost of Production

This is a less significant reason however it can be a reason, there are different additional ingredients that come with an actual drug for it to be presented in the form it is taken. So, for example a 500mg paracetamol tablet is definitely going to weigh far more than 500mg if it is weighed.

Sweetening agents are one of these possible additional ingredients and the cost of buying them, the process of adding them or the technology to incorporate them into a tablet for example can increase production costs. These depends on the drug in question as well.

This leaves the drug producers with a decision on whether it is really important to sweeten them especially since a major consideration is ensuring that the drug cost remains as low as possible.


When formulating medicines, the end goal for the production pharmacist is to ensure that the medicine is formulated in a way that ensures that when a patient takes it the drug works in a particular way.

The ingredients are added to ensure that the drug works in a particular way. Not all of these ingredients go together and that is why any ingredient that is not absolutely necessary or capable of affecting the normal action of the drug is dropped.

Sadly, our favorite sweetening agents are sometimes sacrificed to ensure that the drugs we use can work as effectively as we want it to. I’m sure you would prefer taking bitter medications for a few days and get better than sweet meds that aren’t as effective.

Type of Medication

The type of medication sometimes plays a role in determining if drug producers consider sweetening as very important.

A medication for high blood pressure which could be taken for life will be higher on the priority of drugs to be made less foul tasting. Same applies to smell compared to an antibiotic usually taken for 3 days to one week.

The reason a medication isn’t sweet can be due to one or a mixture of any of these 3 factors discussed above. The most important point to take away is the importance of taking medications according to prescription.

This is the only way to get maximum benefit from them. Always feel free to ask your pharmacist about alternative drinks you can use to take your medication if water doesn’t do it for you.

Oluwatomi Olusanya (B.Pharm UPH)