After pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced on Friday that it will clamp down on the distribution of its drugs so that they can no longer be used in executions, any state that wants to use lethal injection will now have to resort to getting them on underground markets.
Pfizer announced that it will restrict seven products — pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide, and vecuronium bromide — that are used in executions. Those products will now only be available to a select group of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers who verify that they won’t resell them to correctional institutions for executions, and any government entity that wants to buy them has to certify that they will only be used for patient care and will not be resold.
Pfizer says it will “consistently monitor” the seven drugs to root out any noncompliance and modify its policies if need be to make sure that they aren’t used in lethal injections.
“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the company said in its statement announcing the new policies. “Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”
Without supply from Pfizer, states that use lethal injection now have no open-market source of getting drugs. “With Pfizer’s announcement, all F.D.A.-approved manufacturers of any potential execution drug have now blocked their sale for this purpose,” Maya Foa, director of human rights group Reprieve’s death penalty team, told the New York Times. “Executing states must now go underground if they want to get hold of medicines for use in lethal injection.”
The announcement comes after more than 20 drug companies in the United States and Europe had similarly restricted products that are used in lethal injection. It also comes after Pfizer acquired Hospira, which makes drugs used in executions and had tried but failed to prevent their use in state prisons. Its products were used, for example, in the high-profile, prolonged execution of Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire, which took nearly 25 minutes and appeared to cause him suffering.
Thirty-one states still authorize the death penalty, and lethal injection is the primary method. But these states have faced increasing road blocks in their attempts to access the drugs since 2009, when technical production problems shut down the only federally approved factory making sodium thiopental, a barbiturate given to render inmates unconscious before the lethal drugs are administered. Since then, manufacturers have increasingly sought to avoid being associated with executions and barred corrections facilities from buying their drugs.
In response, states have experimented with new combinations of drugs and tried to import them from other countries or use straw buyers to access them. Some have bought drugs from compounding pharmacies that aren’t regulated by the FDA. Others have even considered turning to the use of the electric chair, firing squads, and gas chambers.
Others, including Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio, have had to delay executions for months at a time because of drug shortages or injunctions over their methods.
Amid these challenges, capitol punishment has been on the decline. Last year just six states performed executions — the bulk of them in one state, Texas — and killed 28 people in total, a 70 percent decrease from a peak of 98 people in 1999.
By Bryce Covert - Think Progress/May 13, 2016