Johnson & Johnson objects to a Janssen-developed drug's use in executions

Lethal injection room for execution
As drugmakers have put contract restrictions on use of their drugs for executions, the half-dozen states that use lethal injection are finding it more difficult to secure supplies.

With execution drugs becoming hard to get, Florida’s Department of Corrections intends to use etomidate, an anesthetic developed 50 years ago by Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Although the drugmaker sold off the product last year, it has objected, saying the drug was never intended for putting someone to death.

“We do not support the use of our medicines for indications that have not been approved by regulatory authorities,” the Johnson & Johnson unit said in a statement emailed today. “We do not condone the use of our medicines in lethal injections for capital punishment.”

Many drugs have become unavailable for execution cocktails as drugmakers instituted contract restrictions that wholesalers could not sell them to states wanting them for lethal injections.

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Florida authorities have not disclosed where they got the drug, The Wall Street Journal reported. It is now off patent and a number of companies make generics. J&J, in fact, never marketed the drug in North America, the company said, and sold off rights to it outside of the U.S. last year “for strategic business reasons.”

The drug was one of five anesthesia and pain management drugs that India’s Piramal acquired from J&J last year in a deal that could reach $175 million. Under the deal, Janssen continues to supply Piramal with the drug during the transition, although another company manufactures it for Janssen. 

RELATED: Piramal bulks up in injectable generics, buying five drugs from J&J

As shortages of drugs begin to impede executions, states have taken a variety of steps to get their hands on sufficient supplies to keep up their death penalty schedules. Sometimes legal delays result in drugs expiring before they are used, sending states to scavenge for new supplies. Some states go to compounders for drugs, and others look to manufacturers in other countries.

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The FDA has also gotten involved by raising questions about states, like Texas, buying some of the drugs from manufacturers overseas.