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Know Your Rights
Source: Newsday
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

2 Drug Chain to Provide Rx Translation Services

Last year, Irania Sanchez took two medications to treat her diabetes and depression and woke up from a coma three days later in a hospital.

Sanchez, 40, of Brooklyn, also takes medication to treat asthma, high blood pressure and cholesterol. She said she didn’t get any information from her pharmacist on the dangers of mixing medications because she doesn’t speak English.

To help New Yorkers like Sanchez, two of the country’s biggest pharmacies have agreed to provide translations of prescription information, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

CVS and Rite-Aid, will advise pharmacy customers about prescriptions with spoken and written translations in Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian, French and Polish, Cuomo said in a news release.

Cuomo’s office launched an undercover investigation after a Brooklyn-based nonprofit, Make the Road by Walking New York, complained that pharmacies "routinely fail to advise non-English-speaking customers in a language that allows them to understand the purpose, dosage and side effects of their medications," according to the release.

State law requires pharmacists to "personally provide information about prescription drugs to all patients, orally and in writing," the release said.

A spokeswoman for Rite-Aid said the company was already working on translations for customers before the state attorney general’s probe began.

"We do believe it’s important for people to get the right medication advice for their prescriptions," said Cheryl Slavinsky, director of public relations at Rite-Aid.

A CVS spokesman said the chain has offered language services in the past. "These services include telephonic language interpretation services for over 150 languages to assist our pharmacists in their counseling of patients who are not proficient in English," said Mike DeAngelis, CVS’ director of public relations, in a statement.

An estimate of the cost of implementing Cuomo’s mandate was not available. The plan would affect more than 2,000 stores statewide, and the investigation was continuing with other pharmacies, said a spokeswoman for Cuomo.

"There are other pharmacies in our complaint and we would like to see more change," said Theo Oshiro, director of health advocacy at Make the Road by Walking New York.

Sanchez said the translations would help prevent adverse reactions like the one she had.

"It’s something that improves human rights," she said in Spanish. "We all need to survive."

**Staff Writer Susana Enriquez contributed to the article