Pfizer bans use of drugs for lethal injections on US death row

Pfizer has become the latest pharma company to oppose the use of its drugs in lethal injections in the US, saying it is placing distribution restrictions on drugs that have been used in death rows.

The company said in a statement that it “strongly objects” to use of its medicines in lethal injections.

Products include pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide. Pfizer’s decision was described by the human rights charity Reprieve as a “turning point” in the history of capital punishment.

Pfizer’s decision means that all US Food and Drug Administration-approved manufacturers of potential execution drugs, a group of 25 companies, have blocked their sale for use in executions, Reprieve said.

Reprieve has been campaigning for years against the lethal injection and has been working with pharma companies to restrict supply of the drugs used in US prisons.

The charity said Pfizer’s investors played a role in its decision. A major shareholder – the New York State’s pension fund, the third largest in the US – has repeatedly raised fiscal and legal concerns following ‘botched’ procedures in states like Ohio and Oklahoma, Reprieve said.

Pfizer’s distribution limits sale of these seven products to a select group of wholesalers, distributors and direct purchasers under the condition they will not resell them to prisons using lethal injections.

Government purchasers must certify the products are used as medicines and not for any penal purposes, and will not resell them.

Maya Foa, director at Reprieve, said: “Pfizer’s new policy is exemplary. In restricting distribution of its medicines to legitimate medical users and preventing sales to death rows, Pfizer is protecting its products, its brand and its shareholders.”

There are concerns that states are using secret arrangements to source the drugs, Reprieve conceded.

The lethal injection involves three separate drugs in a set order – an ultra-short action barbiturate such as sodium thiopental or pentobarbital to render the person unconscious, a muscle relaxant such as pancuronium bromide to induce paralysis and potassium chloride to stop the heart and cause death by cardiac arrest.

The number of executions in the US has fallen since the pharma industry began restricting use of death row drugs several years ago.

According to the US Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organisation, the number of executions in the US peaked at 98 in 1999, but this fell to 28 in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 14 executions according to figures updated last week.

Texas has executed 537 prisoners since 1976, more than any other state, and executed 13 last year. There was no immediate comment on its Department of Criminal Justice’s website.

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