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State Pharmacy Laws State laws on pharmacy malpractice. Learn the pharmacy error Statute of Limitation laws that apply to your state. Call 877-342-2020 for a free consultation.

Will the California State Board of Pharmacy Adopt Bilingual Drug Labels?

David W. Hodges
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Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law

There are many people living in California who understand very little English. Shockingly, 44 percent of California residents speak limited or no English and are fluent in a language besides English, according to recent census data. Whether they speak Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, or another language, they may still need to take medications and get prescriptions filled at pharmacies.

Unfortunately for them, pharmacy labels have been printed in English, which can be confusing to those who don’t read and understand English. As a result, state law SB 472 was passed in 2007 that allowed the pharmacy board to provide dose instructions on its website for Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Russian. While some pharmacies make an attempt to use this information and translate prescription instructions for their patients, many pharmacists don’t use the translations.

As a result, the California State Board of Pharmacy is reviewing whether or not prescription drug labels should be translated. While there aren’t any federal regulations about translating medication instruction labels, California is deciding whether or not pharmacies should be required to translate Rx instruction labels to help those who speak little to no English.

A decision was supposed to be made about translated labels on prescriptions, but the California State Board of Pharmacy postponed the meeting until September 18th, 2014. Many feel like a printed translated drug label should be required and not just an oral translation. However, there are those in the industry like CVS that feel there is a lack of space on drug labels and translating labels would increase liability. Because this proposed law is controversial, the Communication and Public Education Committee is now reviewing the issue.

When drug labels are only printed in English, many patients are put at risk for making medication errors. For example, they might take too much medication or take medication with the wrong food at the wrong time of day. When medication labels are in a patient’s own language, it can help him or her avoid making a medication mistake that could cause harm or even death. However, pharmacies are concerned that label translations will open them up to further liability because they won’t be able to catch a translation mistake or pharmacy error  if they don’t speak the other language.

We will keep our readers updated on the proposed regulations going forward, and we encourage our readers to get involved by sharing this article on Facebook.