Healthy Choices

California pharmacy board delays action on translating drug labels

The California State Board of Pharmacy steered away Thursday from a decision on whether pharmacies should be required to translate prescription drug labels for limited-English speakers and passing the issue to another committee for further discussion.

Several speakers at Thursday’s meeting urged the board to require printed translated labels on prescription bottles, arguing that the verbal interpretation does not go far enough for patients with limited English. Others, including representatives from CVS Caremark Corporation and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, voiced their reluctance due to space constraints on the lables and liability issues.

Almost everyone agreed that a change was necessary, noting a widespread lack of adherance to prescription instructions and a high rate of adverse medical reactions among the state’s more vulnerable populations, including limited-English speakers. Linda Neuhauser, clinical professor of Community Health and Human Development at UC Berkeley, urged California to set an example for the rest of the country on the translation issue.

“We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “This is inevitable. It has to be done right. But it’s going to happen.”

Still, there are grey areas to be worked out, such as what languages would require translation, how to assure accuracy of translations and whom to hold liable in the case of an error. The board’s Communication and Public Education Committee will consider comments from the forum during its Sept. 18 meeting and report back to the board with recommendations if necessary.

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