For Gloria Esquivel, tasks as simple as reading medication labels have proved difficult throughout her years as an immigrant living in Queens.
Esquivel, who emigrated from her native Peru 10 years ago, said that one of her biggest struggles is to properly comprehend instructions on the prescription drug medicine required to treat her heart problems.
There have been numerous times that I have received medicine but got no help because of the language barrier, said Esquivel, who lives in Corona. Im scared that one day I might take more medicine than I am required to take and possibly overdose and get really sick, she added.
Esquivel said many residents in her area, primarily non-English speaking immigrants, share the same struggles and fears in regards to prescription medicine. She also said the issue has been an on-going quandary, one that has a lot of people concerned.
Sometimes, our pride holds us back from wanting to ask simple questions at a pharmacy, Esquivel said. Most of the people that I know who get prescription drugs are scared to ask for help. We need to start asking for help.
According to Make the Road New York (MRNY), an organization dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of limited English proficient community residents, an estimated 90 million consumers have trouble understanding instructions on prescription labels because of inconsistent and often confusing language. The organization also said the issue burdens already under-resourced hospitals, costing $300 billion nationwide every year in health care spending.
This is a major problem that must be addressed not only because 90 million consumers (nationally) are putting their lives in danger, but also because this lack of clarity is expensive and unsustainable for our health care system, said Theo Oshiro, director of health advocacy at MRNY.
MRNY has teamed up with another organization, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), and several city officials including Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who represents District 75 in Manhattan, in order to reduce the number of medication errors that result from the challenges patients face in comprehending medication labels.
Everyone should know that in all chain pharmacies in New York City, they are entitled to oral interpretation and instructions in the language that they speak, said Nisha Agarwal, director of the Health Justice Program at NYLPI, which partners with community organizations to focus on health issues that affect low-income communities of color. A lot of patients dont know that so they dont get the help they need and then pharmacies contact us saying that they dont need these services but this isnt true because the people arent saying anything.
Gottfried will re-introduce legislation that calls on the State Board of Pharmacy to simplify drug labels. If passed, the bill would require pharmacies to identify whether a customer needs assistance in understanding the prescription because of language, provide prescription labels and directions regarding dosage and safety information in the patients language, Gottfried said.
Thanks to online and phone-service systems, it is practical for chain pharmacies and mail order pharmacies to provide this service, Gottfried added.
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