En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

Pharmacies Agree to Provide Prescription Data in Many Languages

In a deal
that underscores the challenges and obligations of doing business in polyglot New York State, five major chains that sell
prescription drugs have agreed to provide customers with information about them
in the customers’ primary languages, the office of Attorney General Andrew M.
Cuomo announced on Tuesday.


The
agreements stem from a lengthy investigation by Mr. Cuomo’s office that found
that pharmacies across the state, in violation of the law and at great risk to
customers, routinely failed to provide information about medication in a
language their immigrant customers could understand, officials said.


“The need
to understand prescription information can literally be a matter of life and
death,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. For those New Yorkers who do not speak
English as a first language, he said, “this agreement will ensure they have the
medical information needed to protect their health and well-being and that of
their families.”


State law
requires that pharmacists personally provide to patients spoken and written
information about the dosage, purpose and side effects of prescription drugs,
officials said. The law also prohibits pharmacies from discriminating against
non-English speakers.


Complying
with the law has become an increasing challenge for pharmacies in a state where
the foreign-born population has grown to 4.1 million, or 21.3 percent of the
total population in 2007, up from 3.8 million in 2000, or about 20.1 percent of
the total population then.


According
to census data, about 3 in 10 residents of New York
State, and about half of the residents
of New York City,
speak a language other than English at home. There are an estimated 170
languages spoken in the state.


The
agreement announced Tuesday involves Wal-Mart; Target; A.&P., which
operates Pathmark, Super Fresh, and Food Emporium among other stores; Costco;
and Duane Reade, the largest pharmacy chain in New York City.


Under the
agreement, the retailers will equip their dispensaries with telephones that
will connect customers with off-site interpreters working for language-service
contractors. Some stores plan to provide dual handsets to allow pharmacists and
customers to confer jointly with the interpreters, Mylan L. Denerstein,
executive deputy attorney general for social justice, said at a news conference
in Brooklyn announcing the agreement.


Ms.
Denerstein said that customers at the five companies’ pharmacies will have access
to interpreting services in more than 150 languages.


In
addition, the retailers have agreed to provide written information about the
medication they sell in five of the main foreign languages spoken in New York: Spanish,
Chinese, Italian, Russian, and French.


Ms.
Denerstein said the agreement was “a major undertaking” for the stores.


In a
statement, Duane Reade said, “We applaud the attorney general’s efforts to
upgrade prescription-translation services,” and noted that the company
currently provides language translation services in 13 languages as well as
telephone interpreting for more than 170 languages.


Last
November, under pressure from Mr. Cuomo’s office, two other major pharmacy
chains, CVS and Rite Aid, reached similar agreements.


The investigation
began with a complaint filed in 2007 by a group of immigrant-advocates’
organizations, led by
Make the Road New York, which works primarily with
Latino immigrants in New York City.


“Over the
past two decades, New York
has undergone a major demographic shift,” the group’s co-executive director,
Andrew Friedman, said at the news conference.
“Literally millions of New Yorkers are in the process of learning English.”


While the
state and New York City have tried to adjust to
the increasing linguistic demands by providing services in an increasing array
of languages, he said, “most New
York
State

pharmacies have been lagging far behind.”


In an
interview,
Mr. Friedman said that the initial complaint
to Mr. Cuomo’s office involved more than 20 customers who claimed they had not
been able to communicate with pharmacists and could not read the written
material provided to them. Most of the customers were Spanish speakers, he
said.


One
woman, he recalled, had been giving her child a medication by mouth, “and her
kid kept throwing up.” She turned to
Make The Road, which determined that the
medicine was a topical drug. “We figured that if pharmacies were doing this
badly in Spanish, they were doing significantly worse with other languages,” he
said.