Pfizer, McKesson try to stop Arkansas executions, say state lied to get drugs

Pfizer and drug wholesaling giant McKesson, along with drugmakers Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward, have all weighed in to stop Arkansas from using their drugs in its effort to perform seven executions in short order before the drugs expire at the end of the month, exhausting the state’s only remaining, or available, supply.

McKesson was able to get a state judge in Arkansas to issue a temporary restraining order on Friday, Reuters reported. It told the judge the state has refused its demand that it return the drug, vecuronium bromide, after McKesson learned it intended to use it for executions in violation of its sales agreement.

The drug was manufactured by Pfizer, which has said it has made clear to its wholesaler and to states that still do executions that the drug, and about 15 others, are not to be sold or used for executions.

“Pfizer has twice requested that Arkansas return any Hospira or Pfizer manufactured restricted product in their possession. In addition, we considered other means by which to secure the return of the product, up to and including legal action,” Pfizer said in its statement, adding that McKesson has violated its contract with Pfizer by selling the drug to the department of corrections.

McKesson, in its defense, said in a statement that Arkansas had essentially lied to it when it bought the drug, claiming it was going to be used “for medical purposes.”

Meanwhile, Fresenius Kabi USA and Hikma’s West-Ward Pharmaceuticals have also weighed in, the New York Times reports, saying they have asked a judge to prevent the state from using their drugs, potassium chloride and midazolam, in the executions. They also claim the state got the drugs in violation of their policies against use of their drugs for executions.

Drugmakers, under pressure from groups that oppose capital punishment, began about four years ago to write contracts that restricted any of their drugs from being sold for use in drug cocktails for executions. As shortages of drugs began to impede executions, states took a variety of steps to get their hands on sufficient supplies to keep up their death penalty schedules. Sometimes legal delays would result in drugs expiring before they were used, sending states to scavenge for new supplies. Some went to compounders for drugs, and others looked to manufacturers in other countries. The FDA has also gotten involved by raising questions about states, like Texas, buying some of the drugs from manufacturers overseas.

Lawyers for inmates on death row have sometimes stalled executions by seeking to find out the sources of drugs used in executions to ensure they are safe and effective for use. That has led a number of states to write laws saying their states don’t have to disclose the source of their drugs.