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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Ledger
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

Pols Call For Multilingual Multivitamins

When young children in Queens and Brooklyn
are ill, their non-English speaking parents may be receiving a prescription for
disaster, warn a number of elected officials and activist groups.

treatment problems that many families in the boroughs may be facing relate to
the incorrect application of a variety of prescription medicines, but the
problem is not with the medicine itself, but rather with the labeling.

existing state and federal regulations, a number of New York City pharmacies have not been
providing sufficient translations for prescription medicine labels to their
customers. For the large immigrant populations in Brooklyn and Queens, this lack of information has proven to be
especially dangerous.

“In Spanish,
the word once means “eleven,” so if somebody gets a prescription that says,
‘take once daily,’ they may take it eleven times, which would be an enormous
mistake,” said State Senator John Sabini. “And that’s just the simplest example
I can give of the potential for confusion.”

“I’ve had
constituents tell me that they don’t know whether to rub medication on their
belly or administer it orally,” added Councilman Eric Gioia.

The problem
of limited or insufficient prescription medicine translation is a long-standing
one, and despite the high stakes of mis-administered drugs, there has been
little movement by the city’s pharmacies to correct the problem.

“The ability
to understand one’s medication is a basic right that all New Yorkers should
enjoy, regardless of what language you speak,” said Gioia.

“A little
over a year ago, we published a report entitled ‘Bad Medicine’ that was just
testimony after testimony of complaints about the limited translations available,”
Theo Oshiro, director of Health Advocacy for Make the Road By Walking, a community advocacy group.

Though there
are both federal and state regulations requiring pharmacies to provide
translations, they are rarely followed and difficult to enforce, and shortly
after compiling the report,
Make the Road filed a complaint with the State
Attorney General’s Office that is still pending.

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,” added

with federal and state laws that require language assistance services in
pharmacies is not difficult or expensive,” argued 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.”

According to
Sabini, the existing laws regulating translations are particularly difficult to
enforce because those who may be affected by the lack of information are
unlikely to report the problems to the proper authorities.

“It’s also
difficult to set up a sting operation, because the person who purchases the
prescription medicine must be legitimately unable to read the prescription,”
the senator explained. “We can’t send someone in who understands the

One of the
surprising findings of
Make the Road’s study is that, despite their greater
resources and access to newer technology, larger, chain pharmacies are more
commonly failing to provide adequate translations as opposed to smaller, more
locally based chains and individual stores.

“A lot of
mom-and-pop pharmacies have a better handle on their own specific markets, and
can cater to their frequent customers, be they Bangladeshi, Dominican, or
Indian,” said Sabini. “Larger chains may not know the nuances of their customer

pharmacies already have the technology to be able to translate prescription
labels into many different languages,” said Agarwal. “Small, locally owned
pharmacies in New York
are doing a good job of meeting the needs of their customers who are
limited-English proficient. Large national and regional chains should certainly
be able to do so, too.”

Gioia, and
Make the Road hope that the complaint, which was
initially filed in 2007 and names 16 pharmacies in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, will lead to
stronger regulations on prescription translations at the state and local
levels. Though the complaint is still pending,
Make the Road has received word from Attorney
General Andrew Cuomo’s office that they are investigating the situation.

Senator John Sabini, Councilman Eric Gioia,
Theo Oshio, director of Health Advocacy for Make the Road New York, and Nisha Agarwal, an attorney with
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, demand new laws and stricter
enforcement of current regulations relating to the translation of prescription
medicine labels and directions for non-English speaking customers. They spoke
outside of a Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Woodside that has been named in a complaint
file to the State Attorney General.