Novartis aims to keep death-penalty drug out of U.S.

Yet another drugmaker has lodged a protest against capital punishment. Novartis, whose generics unit Sandoz makes a copycat version of sodium thiopental, says it is forbidding its distributors from channeling the drug into the U.S., where it might be used to execute death row prisoners. Meanwhile, 13 U.S. states are having so much difficulty getting the drugs they need for executions, they've asked the feds to step in and help.

This is just the latest in an ongoing tug-of-war over products that are part of lethal-injection drug cocktails, but are much more commonly used in hospitals. Hospira decided to stop making thiopental entirely; it had planned to move thiopental manufacturing to an Italian plant, but government officials there threatened action if Hospira didn't block its use in executions. Saying its distribution arrangements wouldn't allow for that guarantee, Hospira pulled the plug on thiopental instead.

It's not clear whether the Sandoz drug could still make it to the U.S. somehow: In demanding that distributors avoid it, the company said it couldn't guarantee that third parties wouldn't defy its request. Hungarian drugmaker Lundbeck, which makes a drug used in executions, issued a plea for U.S. states to stop, but officials didn't appear to be swayed. In a move that might be more effective, the U.K. government said it would take steps to limit exports of lethal-injection drugs and would ask the E.U. to do so as well.

States and hospitals both know that these drugs are running short, whatever drugmakers' power--or lack thereof--over their distribution. Now, the Department of Justice says it's reviewing a request from 13 death-penalty states, which want help getting thiopental for their executions. "Sodium thiopental is...essentially unavailable on the open market," the states wrote (as quoted by AFP). "Therefore we solicit your assistance in either identifying an appropriate source ...or making supplies held by the federal government available to the states."

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