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Literacy

Many Americans too illiterate to understand prescription medication labels

Tuesday, December 05, 2006 by: Jerome Douglas
Tags: literacy, prescription labels, physician instructions

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(NewsTarget) More and more people living in America don't have the needed English-language literacy skills to read, interpret and follow directions -- and that can cause big problems when prescription medications are not taken per the doctor's orders. Even people with higher levels of literacy still can't understand some intricacies of medication labels.

According to a recent study, a sample of ethnically diverse primary care patients from community health centers were looked at by researchers to see if they could demonstrate understanding of instructions on prescription labels for five common medications.

The highest rates of misunderstanding across each of the five bottle labels occurred among patients with the lowest literacy levels. Misunderstanding was common even among those with the highest literacy levels. Further analysis showed that lower literacy and greater number of prescription medications taken were associated with misunderstanding.

Even those who seemed to understand a standard prescription label by correctly reading and restating the instructions could not demonstrate how they would take the medication at home. All participants were asked to show how many pills they would take in one day using candy pills from a bottle. As a result, a lower literacy rate was associated with failure to correctly execute pill-taking instructions.

"These findings are particularly worrisome given that the least-educated Americans also happen to be the people who take the most pharmaceuticals," said Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate. "Americans with higher levels of education and literacy know full well that pharmaceuticals are dangerous, and they are increasingly seeking natural, safer alternatives such as nutritional therapies, herbs and naturopathic approaches to medicine. It is the illiterate segment of the population that depends on dangerous prescription medications the most."

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