A city-based immigrant advocacy group has targeted eight Queens pharmacies in a civil rights complaint, accusing the stores of discriminating against non-English speakers by not translating prescription labels into other languages.
Make the Road New York recently filed the complaint with state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, alleging that the failure to translate the labels is putting lives at risk, said Theo Oshiro, director of health advocacy for the group.
Several borough pharmacies were listed in the complaint, including two Duane Reade sites on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood, Rite Aid Pharmacy locations on 43rd Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue in Sunnyside, a Rite Aid on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica and another on Junction Boulevard in Flushing, a Hamtini Pharmacy on Seneca Avenue in Ridgewood and an Eckerd Pharmacy on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, where Make the Road and Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) recently held a rally.
"It’s an ongoing danger to countless people throughout the city," Make the Road co-executive director Andrew Friedman said. "Pharmacies are failing to abide by the law, so we’re working on a strategy to change that."
The complaint lists and additional eight pharmacies in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Uniondale and Hempstead.
But a spokeswoman for Duane Reade said there are not communication problems with customers at the pharmacy’s locations.
"Duane Reade currently provides Spanish labels in certain stores upon request and has over 75 Spanish-speaking pharmacists," the company said in a statement.
A Rite Aid spokeswoman said the pharmacy provides translation in Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Portuguese, French, Russian and Polish.
"We are co-operating with the New York attorney general," she said. "In areas where we have large non-English speaking populations, we try to staff our pharmacies with bilingual technicians as much as we possibly can."
Walgreen’s and CVS have also issued statements which say that their stores provide non-English speakers with translation services for prescriptions.
Make the Road’s legal strategy will be to build a case by compiling individual testimonies from residents living in Ridgewood, Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jamaica and Flushing, who use the targeted pharmacies, Oshiro said. The group is aiming to bring new regulations that would require pharmacies to translate prescriptions into different languages, he said.
Nisha Agarwal, an attorney for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said the group has not suggested any specific languages for translation. But immigrants from several borough neighborhoods said they felt that they were taking a risk by purchasing prescription drugs from their local pharmacies.
"I stopped going to the pharmacy because I couldn’t communicate with anyone there," said Brooklyn resident Aida Torres, who shops at Duane Reade in Ridgewood. "Since I didn’t know how much to take, or how to take it, I decided not to take it at all."
In regard to potential liabilities, Oshiro cited the state Education Law, which requires all prescription information to be marked so that it can be clearly read and understood by consumers.
But state Department of Education spokesman Jonathan Burman said the law is intended to exclude the use of other languages on prescription information.
"In an emergency, health care professionals and legal authorities must be able to read the prescription label to discern what medications the patient is taking," he said. "For that reason, virtually all prescription labels must be printed in English."
But Gioia said borough residents are at risk due to the lack of proper translation assistance.
"We need to make sure that all people know how to use the medications they are putting in their body and what the risks are," he said.
The state attorney general’s office could not be reached for comment.