Should Pharmacies Be Required To Print Prescription Labels in Other Languages?

Being able to clearly understand a prescription drug’s label is crucial – not just for proper adherence to a treatment plan, but also for safety reasons. The label instructs a patient how much of a drug to take and how often. Deviating from this plan can impede progress, not to mention put a patient at risk for complications. But for many patients, there is one major factor preventing them from being able to understand prescription labels: not speaking the language the label is written in. That’s why California is working to pass a bill that would require medication instructions to be translated into the non-English speaking patient’s native tongue, and requiring them to be printed on the label.

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Prescription labels can be complicated. Not fully being able to understand them because of a language barrier can be very dangerous.

In a state like California where more than six million people only have limited English skills, this legislation is long overdue. In a post on, Dr. David Margolius tells a story of a Spanish-speaking patient in California whom he was treating for high blood pressure. The patient had been taking a medication that required two doses a day for some time. Dr. Margolius later switched him to the once-daily formulation. Knowing that his patient might have trouble reading the new instructions on the pill bottle (his pharmacy only printed labels in English), Dr. Margolius took the added step of attaching a sticker to the pill bottle that gave usage instructions in Spanish.

However, when the patient refilled the prescription and was given a bottle with English instructions, he mistakenly reverted back to his routine of taking the medication twice a day – doubling the dose prescribed by his doctor. The patient soon fell ill and was hospitalized with a dangerously low heart rate. This patient survived, but many don’t. In fact, according to the Food and Drug Association (FDA), there is an average of one death a day and an additional 1.3 million injuries a year caused by medication errors in the US.

Do you think pharmacies should be federally mandated to print drug labels in foreign languages? Share your thoughts below.

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