New York City legislators and advocates are calling on the state to implement a law so all chain-store pharmacies across the state will need to provide language services to help consumers understand their medications. The state law would be modeled on a city law passed in 2009 that took effect in June.

“Taking prescription medications shouldn’t be a game of Russian roulette for seniors, non-English speakers or anyone else,” said state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) in a statement. “I am committed to doing all I can, working with my colleagues in the Legislature, to make medication instructions and prescription labels understandable to all consumers.”

The initiative has been supported by Peralta, state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), the immigrant advocacy program Make the Road New York and the Health Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which has taken on Make the Road as a client.

Nisha Agarwal, director of the Health Justice Program, said her program and Make the Road have been working on this issue since 2007. After previous collaboration on various health-care issues, the organizations decided to work on this issue based on a New York Academy of Medicine study that found while 88 percent of pharmacists saw individuals with limited proficiency in English daily and almost 80 percent had the capacity to translate labels, only about 39 percent translated labels daily and almost 23 percent did not translate labels.

“The pharmacist couldn’t explain to them how to take their medicine in a language they would understand,” Agarwal said.

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