Lundbeck's restrictions on Nembutal complicating executions

Steps taken by Danish drugmaker Lundbeck to keep U.S. states from using one of its drugs to execute prisoners are working, sort of. States are running out of unexpired supplies of Lundbeck's pentobarbital but are turning to alternatives, not halting executions.

Ohio will use Lundbeck's pentobarbital for today's scheduled execution of convicted murderer Harry Mitts, Jr., but acknowledged its supplies will expire before its next execution in November, Reuters reports. The state pledged, however, to have another drug protocol in place so that it can put Ronald Phillips to death on Nov. 14.

In 2011, Lundbeck put in place new contracts that prohibited wholesalers from selling the drug to prisons in states that have capital punishment. It was under pressure at the time to withdraw the drug altogether from the marketplace but refused. It said it objected to the drug being used to execute people, but there were epilepsy patients who benefited from it. "We can't guarantee anything, but we are convinced that our new distribution program will significantly limit prisons' misuse of Nembutal in executions while at the same time ensuring that patients continue to have access to a live-saving drug," an official said at the time.  

And the evidence suggests that policy is keeping states from getting their hands on more of the drug. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice last month said that the state's supply of pentobarbital was also about to expire, but Reuters reports it has since retracted that claim without explanation. Texas started using pentobarbital last year after Hospira ($HSP) stopped making sodium thiopental, which Texas previously used in an execution cocktail of three drugs. States then started importing unapproved foreign versions of that drug, but a federal judge put a stop to that last year. He slammed the FDA for allowing unapproved foreign versions to be imported explicitly for executions and ordered the agency to prohibit states from using any they had on hand.

While the actions have complicated the execution schedules of some states, it has not stopped the practice. According to Reuters, Mitts would be third person executed in Ohio this year and the 26th in the U.S.

- read the Reuters story

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