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June 22, 2010 > Renewed effort for consumer-friendly prescription drug labels

Renewed effort for consumer-friendly prescription drug labels

Submitted By Lynda Gledhill

Senator Ellen M. Corbett joined consumers, seniors and advocates at City Hall Plaza, Hayward, on Wednesday, June 16 to announce a new effort to create consumer-friendly prescription drug labels after the Board of Pharmacy rejected public input.

Corbett has amended Senate Bill 1390 (Patient-Centered Prescription Labeling) to require pharmacies to provide language assistance to patients, who have limited English proficiency, and use labels printed in a minimum 12-point font size, the suggested standard by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Medication errors are among the most common medical problems, harming at least 1.5 million people annually. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 46 percent of adults cannot understand the information on their prescription drug labels.

In 2007, Corbett authored SB 472, which authorized the Board of Pharmacy to establish patient-entered prescription drug labeling in California. It was meant to address prescription bottles dispensed directly to patients. The law required the Board to hold public hearings, devise and implement standards.

Despite overwhelming public support for larger type face, last week the Board adopted regulations that do nothing to increase consumer safety.

"The Board had an opportunity to set a national standard for consumer protection. They demonstrated they are willing to put the pharmaceutical companies' interests ahead of consumers," said Corbett. "They might not have heard the public but I have and that is why I am introducing this legislation."

"More than 40 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home and more than 20 percent are not fluent in English," said Marty Martinez, Policy Director for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, a state-wide multi-cultural health advocacy organization. "With our state's linguistic diversity, we need strong legislative leadership to ensure all Californians, regardless of their mother tongue, can receive written directions for the medications that are legible and understood."

SB 1390 will require pharmacies to provide translation services, either in person or through a third-party translation service, with effect from January 1, 2011. Pharmacies must also print labels in at least 12-point font from January 1, 2012. As amended, SB 1390 will require pharmacies to provide both written and oral translations for all materials they provide to patients as from January 1, 2013.

The Bill requires the California Board of Pharmacy to translate specified usage directions into the most commonly-used, non-English languages in the state for use by pharmacies in California. The Board must also post examples of such labels on their website to facilitate their use by pharmacies.

The Board of Pharmacy's proposed adoption of 12-point type, as per staff's recommendation, was superseded after Governor Schwarzenegger's appointment to the commission of a new member, who represents the pharmaceutical industry and tipped the balance of voting. The final standards require 10-point font unless the customer requests a larger size.

It is customary for licensed personnel to administer prescription medicine to patients in health facilities but patients may do so themselves if it is safe to do so. SB 1390 exempts health institutions from the SB 472 labeling requirements established by the California Board of Pharmacy but does require that they receive the information on discharge from care.

Wendy Peterson (Director, Senior Services Coalition of Alameda County), Karen Smulevitz (Board member and activist, United Seniors of Alameda County), Hene Kelly (Legislative Director, California Alliance for Retired Americans), Freddy Michael (local nurse and member of California Burses Association), Jim Forsyth (Gray Panther East Bay) and Al Hernandez-Santana (Executive Director, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California).

For more information, visit and the City Desk page at

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