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Heavy Reliance on Confusing Prescription Drug Stickers

How many different warning labels do your prescription meds have? Except for laughing at the ridiculous graphics or the dire predictions, I don’t pay much attention to them. But labels aren’t a laughing matter for many people in the US according to a study covered in today’s New York Times.

With tiny print and obscure language on other written warnings distributed with meds, many people rely on the stickers for instruction. Yet the stickers’ messages aren’t standardized or very informative. So they are hard to understand, inconsistent and, most important, open to interpretation. The graphic included in the story shows some of these misunderstandings.

Hardest hit are patients with a 6th grade or lower reading level. Considering that 50% of adults in the US can’t read an 8th grade level book, package inserts are useless for too many people. In fact, 46% of American adults can’t understand the label of their prescription meds.

The labels can be problematic for readers at every level. The study found that the “‘FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY’ sticker stumped 25 percent of even those who could read every word, and misled 90 percent of the adults in the lowest literacy group.”

These stickers aren’t standardized and haven’t been seen as important forms of patient education. Clearly that’s a mistake that needs to be reconsidered.

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