State’s diverse population needs higher availability of translation for drug labels, she says By Steven Tavares

State Sen. Ellen Corbett speaks in favor of increased typeface and translation of prescription drug labels Wednesday morning at Hayward City Hall Plaza.

Wendy Peterson held a prescription bottle and took off her glasses exposing her eyes to the exceptionally bright Wednesday morning sun. “I can’t read this without taking my glasses off,” said the director of Senior Services of Alameda County, “And actually it’s a little hard now.”

It is not the brilliance of the sun, but the size of the typeface that has state Sen. Ellen Corbett concerned about unnecessary medical errors when seniors and other vision-deficient Californians take their prescribed medications. “These are words that direct us as to how to take powerful medicines that are supposed to make us better not to confuse us,” said Corbett before a late morning rally in front of Hayward’s City Hall.

The State Board of Pharmacy recently ruled in favor pharmacy retailers by recommending using a 10-point font on prescription labels unless customers request a larger size. The little-known governing body also recommended using translation services at pharmacies only if they already use such a service. Corbett says the spirit of her bill passed in 2007 has been ignored by the board that features numerous members of the pharmacy industry. Critics of the board cried foul last February when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed industry insider Deborah Veale one day before a crucial vote on drug labelling. Veale is an executive for CVS/Pharmacy whose vote subsequently overturned what appeared to be a decision in favor of Corbett’s requirements

Corbett amended SB 1390 Monday to include a minimum 12-point font and require pharmacies to have translation services available. If passed by the Legislature, the new rules for translating labels would be in effect January 2011, followed a year later by the larger typeface standard. “We’re here because we want to make sure Californians can read their prescription drug labels and understand them,” said Corbett. “You would think that would be a very easy thing to ask and something very simple to change that would make a very far-reaching difference.”

“It’s the least we can do to make the font bigger,” said Peterson, “so seniors can read it, to put it in a language they can understand.” Hene Kelly of the California Alliance for Retired Americans said special interests within the big pharmacy companies are putting profits over the safety of their customers. “This is just another case of Wall Street getting their way over Main Street and we have suffered,” Kelly said. She says the extra cost incurred by pharmacies is just one cent per bottle and plans to head to Sacramento in support of Corbett’s bill with a water cooler bottle full of pennies in tow to make her point.

Large pharmacy retailers have said larger fonts would be costly and increase the size of prescription bottles making them cumbersome and unwieldy for customers using multiple medications. Some retailers already use translation services to communicate directions for specific drug uses, but its use is not prevalent, some say.

Employees at one local large pharmacy retailer in San Leandro tells The Citizen the translation service, accessed by telephone, is rarely used because of the time consumed by the service versus a lengthening line of customers sometimes as large as 10 deep and exacerbated by reduced staffing and hours. It is also common, they say, for Spanish-speaking customers to bring bilingual elementary school-aged children to translate advice on usage of medication given by the pharmacist to the patient.