Pfizer agreed on Friday to tighten distribution of its medicines so they are not used in lethal injections, a move that eliminates the last legitimate source of drugs for prison executions in the United States.
More than two dozen drug makers in the United States and Europe had previously adopted such a policy, either for moral reasons or, in some cases, due to pressure from investors. But the Pfizer move, which was first reported by the New York Times, means that prison officials will have to find other means to obtain medicines for lethal injections.
“We can now say that all FDA-approved suppliers [of such drugs] have taken steps to prevent misuse of their medicines for executions,” said Maya Foa, who heads the Death Penalty project at Reprieve, an advocacy group in the United Kingdom, and who is also a consultant to Pfizer on the issue of lethal injections. “I think the message from industry is clear now and their wishes will be heeded.”
Pfizer is restricting sale of seven products to a “select group” of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers under the condition they do not resell the drugs to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections. And government buyers must certify the medicines purchased are used only for medically prescribed patient care and not for any penal purposes, according to the Pfizer policy.
The medicines include pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide, and vecuronium bromide.
The use of prescription medicines for executions has embroiled the pharmaceutical industry for years. Gradually, company after company agreed to restrict distribution of its medicines, sometimes under duress.
Last year Reprieve pressured Akorn Pharmaceuticals to ensure two of its drugs were not used for executions. The advocacy group was aided by New York State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli who last fall issued a shareholder resolution asking Akon to issue a report about its policy. And Reprieve pressured Mylan Laboratories two years ago by contacting investors to urge the drug maker to change its policy.
As drug makers began restricting distribution, some states turned to compounding pharmacies. Last year, though, the American Pharmacists Association, the leading organization representing pharmacists in the US, voted to discourage its 62,000 members from providing medications for executions. The International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists adopted a similar policy.
Nonetheless, most of the 32 states that have the death penalty are secretive about their sources for obtaining medicines. Some say there is concern over reprisals from death penalty opponents. At a court hearing this week, a Texas official argued that disclosing the source of a medicine “creates a substantial threat of physical harm,” according to the Associated Press.
But Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a research group in Washington, told the New York Times that “the secrecy is not designed to protect the manufacturers, it is designed to keep the manufacturers in the dark about misuse of their products.”