Florida stops execution to study Lundbeck drug

The Florida Supreme Court postponed the execution of a condemned man to take a closer look at the new drug cocktail used for lethal injection. The move follows Danish manufacturer Lundbeck's statement that its pentobarbital medication may be unsafe for that use, and the company's attempt to stop distributors from selling it to customers likely to use it in executions.

The court's ruling is the latest in an ongoing debate over lethal injection drugs. Ever since the anesthetic sodium thiopental began running scarce, forcing states to delay executions, prisons have been scrambling for substitutes. They zeroed in on pentobarbital, but questions have arisen about its efficacy as an anesthetic and about the proper dosages needed for executions. As the Palm Beach Post reports, an execution using the drug last month raised questions about whether pentobarbital was doing its job.

Lundbeck immediately began fighting against the use of its drug for lethal injection. The company said it couldn't pull the drug from the market, because it is needed for medical use, but has pleaded with prisons not to use it, and most recently ordered distributors not to sell it to law enforcement customers. 

Now, lawyers for condemned Florida prisoner Manuel Valle are objecting to the drug cocktail, saying that pentobarbital has never been FDA-approved for anesthetic use--and Florida's top court determined that the prisoner's objections warranted a hearing. The court will take up the issue next month.

- read the Post story

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