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New law requires pharmacies to provide “prescription readers” to blind patients

Oregon Legislature

Starting in January, a new Oregon law will require pharmacies to provide visually-impaired patients with a device that’s programmed to read prescription information out loud.

The units are called prescription readers. They read a chip applied to medication bottles and convey information about dosage, side effects, refills, etc.

James Edwards of the Oregon chapter of the American Council of the Blind says the unit can be a literal life-saver.  “Just imagine yourself being blind and you have to take, say, six different medications because of some certain illness that you have, and not being able to read it,” he said.

Before new technology such as prescription readers, Edwards—who is visually impaired—said most blind people “had some sort of a system they would use, by putting one rubber band around a bottle that had a certain prescription, and then two around another.”

“It was kind of an archaic way of doing it, but it was the only option they had if they lived alone,” said Edwards.  

He said another option for visually-impaired people was to hire an aide, but not only could that be expensive, it also contributed to a loss of independence.

A group of Oregon pharmacies lobbied against the bill citing the cost to drug stores. Nikki Terzieff, a lobbyist for the Oregon Pharmacy Coalition, testified that “any mandate of fixed additional expenses threatens the ability of a pharmacy to even exist to serve the public.”

The Florida-based company that manufactures the most widely-used prescription reader estimated in submitted testimony that it would cost pharmacies approximately $400 per year to lease the equipment needed to dispense the labels, plus another $2 per label applied to a prescription. The readers themselves are provided by the company at no cost.

House Bill 2935 was modeled after a similar law in Nevada. The Oregon measure passed both the House and Senate on a mostly party-line vote, with a handful of Republicans joining majority Democrats in support of the bill. Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law on June 20. 

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018 and became News Director in March, 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”