Pharmacy Error in English-Spanish translated Drug Labels and Instructions

In a recent study that our Maryland Pharmacy Misfill Attorneys have been following, the problem of prescription translations from English to Spanish in pharmacies nationwide is being exposed, as well as the potential for medication error with customers.

The study, published in the May issue of Pediatrics, shows that many Spanish speaking people living in the United States are receiving prescription drugs from pharmacies with labels and instructions that have been translated so poorly from English to Spanish, that they are riddled with errors, misspellings, and incorrect phrasing. The prescription medications in these cases proved to have the potential of being more of a health hazard than a health benefit to patients if incorrectly administered—which could lead to personal injury or wrongful death.

According to the study results, the prescription translation errors are occurring because of poor translation systems in the computer programs that most pharmacies depend on for Spanish to English medication translations.

The study focused on 286 pharmacies in the Bronx, New York, where a reported 44 percent of the city’s population speak Spanish. The results found that 86 percent of pharmacies provided Spanish labels and instructions that were translated by computer programs, 11 percent used staff members for translations, and 3 percent of pharmacies used a professional interpreter to translate the labels and instructions.

The researchers reportedly found dozens of incidents where the quality of the medication label and instruction translations were dangerouly inconsistent. A common problem was that the computer program translated the prescription information into “Spanglish”— a mix of English and Spanish that was hard to read and often confusing. One example of a medication translation mistake was the use of the word “once” in English, meaning “once a day” that also means “eleven” in Spanish, which could result in a possible overdose. Other instructions that were not properly translated included phrases like, “apply topically,” or take “with juice,” or “with food,” as well as the length of the drug course, like “for seven days.”


Misspellings in the translations also created hazardous errors, like the faulty use of the word “poca” meaning “little” instead of “boca” or “mouth.” According to the study another set of instructions included “dos besos” meaning “two kisses” instead of the instructions “dos veces” or “two times.” Other examples of poor prescription translations included “take 1.2 aidia give dropperfuls with juice eleven to day” and “apply to affected area twice to the indicated day like.”

The study claims that with the sheer amount of information that a pharmacist must provide daily with prescriptions, it is not surprising that pharmacists without a proper knowledge of Spanish or other languages are not catching the computer generated medication mistakes. New York City reportedly requires prescription labeling in six common languages, and the authors of the study claim that much more research is needed to identify dangerous mistakes to prevent erroneous labels for non-English speaking patients, as well as new software developments to properly handle the sheer quantities of drug label and instruction translations, to avoid pharmacy misfills, mistakes and patient injury.

If you or someone you know has been injured by a medication mistake or pharmacy misfill in Maryland or the Washington, D.C. area, contact our attorneys at Lebowitz and Mzhen, LLC for a free consultation. contact us today, at 1-800-654-1949.

Prescriptions Translated to Spanish Could Be Hazardous to Health, Health Day/Bloomberg Business Week, April 15, 2010
Why Some Prescription Drug Labels Can Be Dangerous, Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2010
Drug Label Accuracy Getting Lost in Translation, Fox News, April 12, 2010

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: (FDA)

National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, (NCCMERP)

Contact Information