Pols Call For Multilingual Multivitamins
When young children in Queens and Brooklyn are ill, their non-English speaking parents may be receiving a prescription for disaster, warn a number of elected officials and activist groups. The treatment problems that many families in the boroughs may be facing relate to the incorrect application of a variety of prescription medicines, but the problem is not with the medicine itself, but rather with the labeling. Despite existing state and federal regulations, a number of New York City pharmacies have not been providing sufficient translations for prescription medicine labels to their customers. For the large immigrant populations in Brooklyn and Queens, this lack of information has proven to be especially dangerous.
“In Spanish, the word once means “eleven,” so if somebody gets a prescription that says, ‘take once daily,’ they may take it eleven times, which would be an enormous mistake,” said State Senator John Sabini. “And that’s just the simplest example I can give of the potential for confusion.” “I’ve had constituents tell me that they don’t know whether to rub medication on their belly or administer it orally,” added Councilman Eric Gioia. The problem of limited or insufficient prescription medicine translation is a long-standing one, and despite the high stakes of mis-administered drugs, there has been little movement by the city’s pharmacies to correct the problem. “The ability to understand one’s medication is a basic right that all New Yorkers should enjoy, regardless of what language you speak,” said Gioia.
“A little over a year ago, we published a report entitled ‘Bad Medicine’ that was just testimony after testimony of complaints about the limited translations available,” said Theo Oshiro, director of Health Advocacy for Make the Road By Walking, a community advocacy group. Though there are both federal and state regulations requiring pharmacies to provide translations, they are rarely followed and difficult to enforce, and shortly after compiling the report, Make the Road filed a complaint with the State Attorney General’s Office that is still pending. “Limited-English proficient community members all over New York State need strong interpretation and translation services as safeguards to health and to ensure equal access to health services,” added Oshiro “Complying with federal and state laws that require language assistance services in pharmacies is not difficult or expensive,” argued Nisha Agarwal, an attorney with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Most pharmacies already have the technology to be able to translate prescription labels into many different languages.”
According to Sabini, the existing laws regulating translations are particularly difficult to enforce because those who may be affected by the lack of information are unlikely to report the problems to the proper authorities. “It’s also difficult to set up a sting operation, because the person who purchases the prescription medicine must be legitimately unable to read the prescription,” the senator explained. “We can’t send someone in who understands the situation.” One of the surprising findings of Make the Road’s study is that, despite their greater resources and access to newer technology, larger, chain pharmacies are more commonly failing to provide adequate translations as opposed to smaller, more locally based chains and individual stores. “A lot of mom-and-pop pharmacies have a better handle on their own specific markets, and can cater to their frequent customers, be they Bangladeshi, Dominican, or Indian,” said Sabini. “Larger chains may not know the nuances of their customer base.” “Most pharmacies already have the technology to be able to translate prescription labels into many different languages,” said Agarwal. “Small, locally owned pharmacies in New York are doing a good job of meeting the needs of their customers who are limited-English proficient. Large national and regional chains should certainly be able to do so, too.” Sabini, Gioia, and Make the Road hope that the complaint, which was initially filed in 2007 and names 16 pharmacies in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, will lead to stronger regulations on prescription translations at the state and local levels. Though the complaint is still pending, Make the Road has received word from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office that they are investigating the situation.
State Senator John Sabini, Councilman Eric Gioia, Theo Oshio, director of Health Advocacy for Make the Road New York, and Nisha Agarwal, an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, demand new laws and stricter enforcement of current regulations relating to the translation of prescription medicine labels and directions for non-English speaking customers. They spoke outside of a Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Woodside that has been named in a complaint file to the State Attorney General.