Arizona turns to Danish company for execution drugs

By staff writers
March 30, 2011

The Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer Lundbeck seems likely to become the dominant supplier of execution drugs in the USA, after a fifth state, Arizona, announced it was switching to pentobarbital for future executions.

A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental has forced Arizona’s Department of Corrections to join Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio in abandoning the standard three-drug lethal injection cocktail of sodium thiopental (also known as thiopental sodium and pentothal) which supposedly anaesthetises the victim, before pancuronium bromide paralyses the muscles and potassium chloride stops the heart.

It has been replaced by an experimental procedure involving pentobarbital, a sedative which was not designed for executions and has no clinical history of such use.

Dr David Waisel, Associate Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School said : “The use of pentobarbital as an agent to induce anesthesia has no clinical history and is non-standard… the combination of significant unknowns… puts the inmate at risk of serious undue pain and suffering.”

The legal charity Repreive says that "as the only licensed supplier of pentobarbital in the United States, Lundbeck and its shareholders will soon be responsible for potentially hundreds of deaths, as executing states increasingly seek Lundbeck’s product to kill prisoners."

Lundbeck executives considered imposing ‘end user’ agreements on customers, to ensure that its drugs were not used for executions. However, the company’s managers were afraid that their distributors would not like the amended contracts and decided to avoid taking action.

Reprieve's Maya Foa said: “Denmark abolished the death penalty in 1930. Why, in 2011, is a Danish pharmaceutical company helping the USA to uphold it?”


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