President’s Message: More Prescription Drug Access Coming to Your Neighborhood

by Kim Charlson

ACB continues to advocate on the prescription drug label accessibility issue on several fronts. Much of our success has come from collaboration with Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian using the process of structured negotiation to accomplish a positive outcome rather than time-consuming and costly litigation.
I am very pleased to share the latest success in this area – an announcement with Walgreens launching a talking prescription label solution for identifying medications. On June 3, 2014, Walgreens officially launched a nationwide program offering talking prescription devices for customers with visual impairments. Walgreens’ accessibility initiative will help people who are blind or visually impaired who have difficulty or are unable to read a standard prescription medication label. This initiative adds to Walgreens’ other accessible prescription information services. In addition to providing the Talking Pill Reminder, Walgreens also offers large-print patient information sheets to customers who have visual impairments.

Walgreens is the nation’s largest drugstore chain and the first in the industry to offer its own exclusive talking prescription device, called the Talking Pill Reminder, which attaches to the bottom of a prescription bottle. The device will be provided free of charge with prescription medications that Walgreens dispenses to its pharmacy customers who are blind or who have visual impairments. The Talking Pill Reminder can be recorded by pharmacy staff to speak the information on the customer’s prescription medication label, and it also has an audible alarm, which can be activated, to help remind patients when to take a specific medication.

The Talking Pill Reminder is available to customers of Walgreens retail pharmacies across the country and through Walgreens prescription mail service free of charge. The devices are also available in Walgreens drugstores for purchase for a retail price of $9.99 by anyone who wants to use this device but is not a Walgreens pharmacy customer.  

“Adherence to medication can be critical in treating illness today, and this device is an innovation that will help our visually impaired customers correctly identify and take medications as prescribed,” said Jeff Koziel, Walgreens group vice president of pharmacy operations. “As part of our mission to help customers get, stay and live well, we’re proud to have worked closely with other leading organizations to make the Talking Pill Reminder available across all of our more than 8,100 stores nationwide.”

ACB partnered with its affiliates in California and Illinois on this successful initiative to make critical prescription information accessible to people who are blind. Through this program, Walgreens has taken a significant leadership role in serving its customers with visual impairments. All partnering organizations have praised the Walgreens announcement as ground-breaking.

Illinois Council of the Blind spokesperson Ray Campbell commended Walgreens’ initiative, saying, “So many of our members and ACB members across the country value Walgreens’ excellent customer service. The company’s rollout of the Talking Pill Reminder gives customers yet another reason to make Walgreens their pharmacy of choice.”

California Council of the Blind president Donna Pomerantz said, “Standard prescription labels put customers who are blind at risk for mixing up medications or taking them incorrectly.  For this reason, Walgreens’ initiative is a matter of basic safety, and we congratulate the company on its efforts in this important area.”

This settlement is a tremendous national commitment by Walgreens, and ACB will continue to work with Walgreens and other players in this area about other access possibilities moving forward. I am personally very excited to have ACB working with Walgreens on this nationwide talking prescription access program. Bringing this level of accessibility to prescription medications at the local pharmacy level is what ACB’s advocacy is all about – making it easier and safer for people who are blind to live and work in their communities independently. I believe that this is just one more step in putting the issue of accessible prescription labeling on the map for serious attention by companies, corporations and government alike. In the meantime, take steps in your life to know what medications you are taking and to have accessible prescription labels for your medicines every day.