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What are Drug Delivery Systems?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Drug delivery systems are methods which are used to ensure that drugs get into the body and reach the area where they are needed. These systems must take a number of needs into account, ranging from ease of delivery to effectiveness of the drugs. Several companies specialize in developing methods of drug delivery, marketing these products to pharmaceutical companies, and other pharmaceutical companies develop their own systems. Many of these methods are patented and proprietary.

When a drug is administered, the dosage must be carefully calculated so that the body can use the drug, which requires a drug delivery system which allows for precise dosing. Healthcare professionals also need to consider the way in which a drug is metabolized by the body. For example, some drugs are destroyed in the intestinal tract, which means that they cannot be introduced to the body in this way. Others may be dangerous in large amounts, which means that a time release method should be used to deliver the drug for patient safety.

Topical drug delivery systems involve the introduction of a drug to the surface of the body, in a formulation which can be absorbed. Skin patches are an example of topical drug delivery systems. Other systems involve sprays applied to the mucus membranes of the nose, inhalation aerosols, eye drops, or creams which may be rubbed into the skin. These systems are often very easy for patients to use, which makes them appealing.

Enteral drug delivery systems rely on introducing a drug to the digestive tract, classically through the mouth or rectum. Direct infusion through gastric tubes is another option for getting drugs into the digestive tract. Perenteral systems involve the injection or infusion of a compound into the body. Many vaccines, for example, are delivered through perenteral systems, as are the drugs used in chemotherapy, which are infused into the body for reliable administration. Implants and infusion pumps may be used for drug delivery in patients with chronic conditions.

In all cases, the goal of a drug delivery system is to get the right dosage to the right place. Patients tend to prefer methods which are painless and easy, which is why many pharmaceuticals come in the form of topical and enteral methods which can be taken by mouth or applied directly to the skin. In clinical environments, perenteral routes can be more common, especially for controlled substances, because these methods allow for greater control over how and when the drugs are used.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon266053 — On May 04, 2012

Extended and sustained released drugs must not be crushed because they are synthesized to fulfill some function, like to bypass the stomach acidic degradation of acid labile drugs. The coating over the drug prevents drug degradation but if we crush the polymer coat, the drug is exposed to stomach acid degradation.

By ellafarris — On May 15, 2011

In case you're curious, there is actually another ingredient in drug products that most people have never heard of (I'm a pharmacist, which is how I know about it) It's called an excipient. Excipients are inactive and usually odorless, colorless and tasteless with the exception of children’s medications in which it makes them more appealing.

They have many uses but one of them is to transport the active drug to the part of the body where it’s intended. Other excipients are added to keep the drug from being released too soon in places where it could damage tender tissue and cause nausea.

Sometimes excipients are used to disintegrate the drug into tiny particles to rapidly reach the blood stream, while others are considered a binder or filler that protects the drugs formation until its intended use.

Because manufacturers are required to list all ingredients on their drugs, excipients are likely to read as “other ingredients”.

By ladyjane — On May 14, 2011

@Sierra02 – That is correct you’re not supposed to crush extended release medicines. You should consult with your doctor about your particular medication, but generally these pills should never be crushed, chewed, or broken. They are designed specifically to release the medicine slowly throughout your body after they’ve reached the small intestines.

With some prescriptions you may not get there full effect and with others they could be deadly by releasing too much at once. You should also be careful about crushing the candy coated pills. The coating is put on them to protect the stomach and prevent potential nausea.

By Sierra02 — On May 12, 2011

I’m 35 years old and have never been able to swallow pills. I know it’s all in my head but trust me, I’ve tried numerous times in a variety of ways. And if the pharmacist dispenses my prescription into a capsule, (sigh), well let’s just say as awful as it is, I’m still careful not to lose any of the precious medicine.

Do you think I’m reducing the drugs effectiveness by crushing and/or chewing them? Does this work with sustained release medications? I try to stay away from them since I’ve heard they have to get to the small intestines before they can do there thing

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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