J&J speaks out as old drug included in lethal injection

Johnson & Johnson has criticised the US state of Florida, which plans to use one of its drugs in the execution of a convicted murderer.

J&J no longer manufactures etomidate, although it discovered the drug back in the 1960s, but an untried three-drug concoction including the anaesthetic is set to be used in the execution of Mark Asay tomorrow.

Now off-patent, several generic drugmakers manufacture the drug and J&J seems unable to intervene directly to stop its use on death row.

However the company distanced itself from the use of the short-acting anaesthetic, formerly branded as Amidate, in lethal injections.

Lethal injections in the US typically have three components – an anaesthetic to induce unconsciousness, a drug to cause muscle paralysis and a drug such as potassium chloride to stop the heart.

But there have been reports that in some cases one or more of the components has not worked properly – such as when the prisoner has an adverse physical reaction – leading to gruesome botched executions.

In past years, states have resorted to using different components as many pharma companies have taken steps to prevent their use in executions.

Florida is beginning lethal injections once more after a hiatus since early 2016, when the US Supreme Court put the state’s death penalty on hold.

The Supreme Court ruled that under Florida’s death penalty system, judges had too much power and that sentencing should be carried out by juries.

But following a rethink of its legal procedures, the state is beginning executions once again, starting with Asay, convicted of shooting two men in Jacksonville in 1987.

Governor Rick Scott signed Asay’s death warrant in January last year, but the legal issues delayed the execution.

J&J’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, said in a statement: “We do not condone the use of our medicines in lethal injections for capital punishment.”

“Janssen discovers and develops medical innovations to save and enhance lives. We do not support the use of our medicines for indications that have not been approved by regulatory authorities.”

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, the international rights organisation, said: “The world’s largest drug manufacturer has added its voice to the industry-wide consensus that opposes the misuse of medical products in lethal injection executions.”

“Pharmaceutical companies are clear that their drugs are for saving the lives of patients, not ending the lives of prisoners. In Florida particularly, Governor Scott should listen to clear and unequivocal statements from Johnson & Johnson and others calling time on this dangerous misuse of medicines, and stay the execution of Mark Asay on Thursday.”


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