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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Senator John D. Sabini
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

English-Only Prescriptions Are a Threat to Public Health

Standing with fellow immigrant’s rights advocates, State Senator John
D. Sabini (D/I-Jackson Heights) spoke out in favor of laws mandating the
translation of prescription drug information into the languages spoken by New
Yorkers at a press conference today in Woodside.

"Diverse communities like the ones I represent
often suffer from higher rates of illness, and the language barrier is a big
part of that," said Sabini, standing in front of a Rite Aid Pharmacy on Roosevelt Avenue.
The pharmacy was formerly an Eckerd that was the target of a recent civil
rights complaint on this subject. "By making prescriptions available in all
languages, we can close this gap and make sure Spanish-speaking New Yorkers
receive quality health care."

the Road New York
, an immigrant’s rights organization, filed the
complaint against the pharmacy in November 2007 for failing to translate
prescription labels and to provide interpretation services for patients who
have limited English proficiency.

English-only prescriptions may leave non-English speakers in the dark
on important drug information, such as dosage requirements. If patients lack
this crucial information, their health may be in great danger – they could
overdose by taking excessive amounts or taking the medicines too often, or they
might not receive proper care by not taking the medicines frequently enough or
in sufficient doses.

"The possibility of misunderstand is so high for non-English speakers,"
Sabini said. "For example, the English word ‘once’ means ‘eleven’ in Spanish."

When patients take incorrect doses, they not only put their own health
at risk, they increase the costs to taxpayers. Patients that receive better
care and take the proper doses of the correct medicines need to visit the
doctor and take those prescribed medicines with less frequency, and the
advocates believe the burden on the pharmacies is very reasonable.

"Complying with federal and state laws that require language assistance
services in pharmacies is not difficult or expensive," said 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. In fact, small, locally owned pharmacies in New York City are doing a
good job of meeting the needs of their customers who are Limited English
Proficient. Large, national & regional chains, which have far more
resources, should certainly be able to do so too."

This is an issue on which the senator has worked extensively. Last
year, Senator Sabini and his staff combed through local pharmacies and found a
large number of recalled medicines still on shelves. Public health issues such
as this can have serious and large implications.

"When patients don’t understand their doctors or how to take their
medications, the consequences can be deadly," said Theo Oshiro,
Director of Health Advocacy of
the Road New York
"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."

"The ability to understand one’s medication is a basic right that
all New Yorkers should enjoy – regardless of what language you speak,"
said Councilman Eric Gioia, who has also called for better oral translation in
pharmacies. "English-only labels don’t live up to the inclusive spirit of New York, and set up a
dangerous and unnecessary barrier for thousands of hard working New Yorkers who
take prescription medication."