Pfizer declares 7 drugs off limits for executions

Execution room
Lethal injection room

When Pfizer last year bought Hospira in a $15 billion deal, it got the world's’ largest manufacturer of sterile injectable drugs. It also got 7 potentially deadly drugs often used in execution cocktails. Pfizer has now made it clear those drugs are not for sale for executions.

One by one, the makers of the certain lethal drugs have severed the supply chain links with U.S. states that use them for executions. With the posting of its policy restricting their sales, Pfizer became the last of about 25 FDA-approved makers globally to officially cut off access, an expert told The New York Times. Hospira had such a policy in place for years to restrict the sales.

Pfizer on Friday posted its policy, saying that it will sell the drugs only to a handful of specialty drug distributors who contractually agree not to resell them for executions and to verify their buyers. Pfizer said it will continually monitor sales to make every effort to prevent the drugs from being diverted to death sentences.

“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment,” Pfizer said in its position paper.

Pfizer said the drugs it is restricting are pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide, “specific products that have been part of, or considered by some states for their lethal injection protocols.”

Organizations, particularly in Europe, have for years been putting pressure on drugmakers that had not put special measures into place to restrict the drugs, often trying to publicly shame them. Holland-based ABP, the world's third-largest employees' pension fund, had been in a back-and-forth with Mylan about its manufacture of rocuronium bromide, which has been used for executions. When it learned that a Virginia prison had stockpiled the drug, the fund sold of its small position in the company.

Hospira was well schooled in the controversy when Pfizer bought it. Under pressure, Hospira in 2011 stopped manufacturing sodium thiopental in the U.S. It had planned to resume production in Italy, strictly to be used for hospital use, but then decided it was going to be difficult to assure prisons didn’t get it, so it quashed that plan.

Danish drugmaker Lundbeck considered stopping production of Nembutal but then relented, citing concerns of doctors about patients with epilepsy they said needed the drug. It put in strict restrictions on wholesalers instead.

But those policies have not been foolproof. Sometimes, third-party buyers have acquired the execution drugs and resold them to prisons. In 2013, German drugmaker Fresenius Kabi scolded a U.S. wholesaler after it accidentally sold its anesthetic propofol to the state of Missouri, which intended to use it for executions. Fresenius then withheld shipping the drug to the wholesaler, instead shipping it directly to its hospital clients to make sure they did not suffer shortages.

- read the Pfizer statement 
more from The New York Times

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