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Pfizer bans use of lethal injection drugs

May 14, 2016

Pfizer has announced it 'strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment' and is to stop making them available. The US concern joins a long list of others taking similar measures.

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Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, is to stop making its powerful drugs available for executions, according to a report in the New York Times on Friday.

Pfizer joins over 20 US and EU pharma firms that have stopped making their drugs available. The EU banned exports of a sedative used to carry out lethal injections in the US in 2011.

"We are enforcing a distribution restriction for specific products that have been part of, or considered by some states for, their lethal injection protocols," Pfizer said on its website. "Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment."

Effective immediately, Pfizer said it would closely screen and restrict the wholesale distribution of the seven products: propofol, pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide.

The US corporation headquartered in New York City called on its partners not to resell the drugs to correction agencies.

The move means there are no remaining sources approved by the Federal Drug Agency (FDA) of lethal injection drugs in the US.

Can't say, won't say

In Florida a series of three injections have been used for executions in the death chamber at Florida State Prison: Midazolam hydrochloride, which sedates the inmate; vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. The source of those chemicals is protected under state law.

"The Florida Department of Corrections does not disclose the identities of our drug suppliers," Department of Corrections spokesman McKinley Lewis said.

Finding alternatives

"Executing states must now go underground if they want to get hold of medicines for use in lethal injection," Maya Foa of the advocacy group Reprieve told the New York Times.

Some have switched to alternative methods such as the electric chair and firing squads. In 2015 Utah approved the use of a firing squad as a backup if lethal injection drugs were unavailable. It is so far the only state to do so, although Mississippi is also considering using the method should lethal injection drugs be unavailable. Utah has executed three men by firing squad, the most recent execution of this type being conducted in 2010.

Meanwhile, federal agents in Phoenix in 2015 reportedly seized $27,000 (23.8 million euros) worth of sodium thiopental illegally imported by the Arizona department of corrections, while in 2014 the state of Louisiana obtained hydromorphone for an execution from a hospital without telling hospital officials what it was going to be used for, according to the New York Times report.

jbh/jm (Reuters)