Lundbeck to withhold Nembutal from U.S. prisons

Yesterday, Danish drugmaker Lundbeck said it wouldn't pull its Nembutal drug off the market in the U.S., despite its moral objection to state prisons' using it in executions. Epilepsy patients still need the drug, executives said, so shutting off supplies wouldn't be compassionate. But the company does have another trick up its sleeve to keep the product off death row.

Lundbeck plans to force distributors into contracts that prohibit them from supplying drugs to prisons in states with capital punishment, Danish media reports. This is an about-face from previous statements, when executives said they would not be able to keep Nembutal from use in executions; since then, the company has been working with a U.K. anti-death penalty group to find ways to do so.

"We can't guarantee anything, but we are convinced that our new distribution programme will significantly limit prisons' misuse of Nembutal in executions," Lundbeck managing director said (as quoted by the Copenhagen Post), "while at the same time ensuring that patients continue to have access to a live-saving drug."

Lundbeck's dilemma follows a shake-up in the drug cocktails used to execute prisoners in the U.S. Short supplies of one key drug in that cocktail forced states to turn to other drugs; Nembutal was one of them. Lundbeck has been protesting that use of its drug ever since, and death penalty opponents in various countries have been trying to keep other drugs from being exported to U.S. for prisons' use.

- see the Post story