By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ever get a prescription filled and find the bottle only half full?

After that happened to WCCO viewer Angela a few times, she wrote to us wanting to know: Why is there so much extra space in pill bottles?

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“There are several reasons,” said pharmacist John Hoeschen. He owns St. Paul Corner Drug on the corner of Snelling and St. Clair avenues.

First, he says all pill bottles, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter, must be large enough so people can read the writing on the label.

For over-the-counter medications, the FDA requires ingredients, uses, directions, purposes, storage and warnings to all be listed on the label.

“Generally speaking, manufacturers choose the container size and the size needs to be sufficient to accommodate the required drug fact information,” said Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations for CVS Pharmacy.

But automation also plays a role. Like most other pharmacies, St. Paul Corner Drug uses a robot to fill most of its prescriptions.

“Because of that monotony and over and over and over of the medication, you’re be much more likely as a human to make an error on it, and this just takes all that out of the equation,” Hoeschen said. “So we get speed accuracy and it makes our day a little more easy flowing.”

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That machine can only handle two sizes of bottles. The smaller size is as small as Hoeschen can go when it comes to reading the words on the label.

Packaging experts have another idea as to why so many of the bottles are standardized. Okan Guney, vice-president of sales and marketing at Sunrise Packaging in Blaine, says the tools to make the pill bottle molds are very expensive.

His company doesn’t make them, but knows the money and energy they require.

“They’re huge, as-big-as-a-house kind of machines. And they take those big molds and they take sometimes $100,000 and $150,000 to make those molds,” Guney said. “You don’t just want to make one and make 1,000 bottles.”

His company makes customized high-end packaging. He says when it comes to designing packaging, he has to look at what the customer wants, the distance to ship and the weight of the product.

Some have suggested the larger bottles are used to make it seem like there’s more product inside, but Hoeschen says there doesn’t appear to be much to that.

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The FDA requires drug companies to identify how much over-the-counter product is in the container.

Heather Brown