Cuomo Announces Agreements With Major Pharmacies To Provide Customers With Prescription Medication Instructions In Their Primary Language

NEW YORK, NY (April 21, 2009) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that Wal-Mart and Target, the two largest retail chain stores in the United States; Duane Reade, the largest pharmacy chain in New York City; and Costco Wholesale Corporation, the largest wholesale club operator in the country, have agreed to provide New York customers with prescription medication instructions in their primary language.  In addition, A & P, one of the largest supermarkets on the East Coast operating Pathmark, Super Fresh, and Food Emporium among others, also entered into the same agreement with the Attorney General. Under the terms of these agreements, the companies will counsel all pharmacy customers about prescription information in their own language and provide written translations in Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian, and French.

The agreements announced today are the result of an undercover investigation into the policies and procedures of pharmacies, conducted by the Attorney General’s Office, which found that pharmacies routinely fail to advise non-English speaking customers in a language that allows them to understand the purpose, dosage, and side-effects of their medications. Attorney General Cuomo announced the first of these groundbreaking agreements, with CVS and Rite-Aid, in November of last year.

“The need to understand prescription information can literally be a matter of life and death,” said Attorney General Cuomo.  “There are over one million people in New York who don’t speak English as their first language, and this agreement will ensure they have the medical information needed to protect their health and well-being and that of their families. New York is defined by its diverse population, and it is our job to make sure that every member of that population, whether English is their first language or not, has access to adequate assistance in understanding their medication.”  

New York law requires pharmacists to personally provide information about prescription drugs to all patients, orally and in writing, and prohibits pharmacies from conducting business in a way that discriminates against non-English speakers.  According to census data, over one million New Yorkers do not speak English “well or at all.” The health and safety of these New Yorkers are put at risk when they are unable to comprehend the instructions for using their medication.  New Yorkers with limited ability to speak English have experienced allergic reactions, adverse side effects, and other health problems due to their inability to understand medical instructions, and in some instances, have refrained from taking medication at all.

The agreements with the Attorney General affect more than 450 stores statewide and require the pharmacies to:

  • Identify whether a customer needs assistance in understanding their prescription medication;
  • Inform customers of their right to free assistance in reading and understanding their prescription medication;
  • Provide prescription labels and directions regarding dosage and safety information in the six languages that are spoken by more than one percent of the population of New York;
  • Provide additional assistance orally in all languages; and
  • Ensure that pharmacy staff counsel customers about their prescription medication in the customer’s own language.

Andrew Friedman, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, said: “We commend the Attorney General for continuing with his investigation to ensure adequate translation of pharmacy services.  This is a very real issue for millions of people in this country and in this State.  Medications have very specific directions on usage and side effects.  Quite simply, if a person cannot understand the medication they are taking, they are at risk of harming themselves.  And pharmacies are not only in the position to prevent such injury but they are legally required to do so.  We are very pleased with these agreements and thank the Attorney General for his efforts.”

Cesar A. Perales, President and General Counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, a national non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization working on behalf of Latinos, said: "These series of agreements are truly landmark; the first to be executed by any Attorney General in this country.  We applaud Attorney General Cuomo for having the unwavering commitment in protecting public health and safety.  Misuse of prescription medication due to language barriers is common and can certainly be avoided through language assistance services.  With these agreements we are taking a giant step forward in protecting public health."

The Attorney General’s Office received complaints about the practices of New York pharmacies from the non-profit organization Make the Road New York.

The cases are being handled by Alphonso B. David, Deputy Bureau Chief for Civil Rights, and Spencer Freedman, Counsel for Civil Rights.


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