US prisons stockpiling execution drugs while hospitals face shortages

By agency reporter
January 16, 2014

Prisons in the US are sitting on large stockpiles of life-saving medicines, which they plan to use in executions, while hospitals face shortages of the same drugs.

Death rows in Florida and Ohio have both bought up supplies of midazolam – a sedative used in surgery and to treat seizures – in order to carry out executions by lethal injection. Ohio has also bought quantities of hydromorphone, an opiate pain-killer, which it is planning to use today along with midazolam in its new lethal injection protocol.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has warned that the US is facing current shortages of both midazolam and hydromorphone – leading to concerns that patients may be denied potentially life-saving drugs while prisons stockpile them in order to kill.

Executioners in Florida and Ohio not only already hold stashes of the drugs, but are expected to seek further supplies as they reach their expiry dates, potentially worsening the existing shortage.

Joel Zivot, Medical Director of the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at Emory University Hospital, says the USA is facing a “public health emergency” because of the shortages. He says he is “shocked and appalled” that vital drugs which are in short supply for life-saving medical use are being hoarded by prisons for use in executions.

Ohio has also been warned by a leading expert that the execution it plans to carry out today (16 January) using midazolam and hydromorphone – which will be the first of its kind – may cause the prisoner to experience “the terror of air hunger during the first five minutes of the execution.” The warning was made this week by Harvard anaesthesiologist Dr David Waisel.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of legal charity Reprieve’s death penalty team said: “It is a scandal that executioners are hoarding medicines in order to kill, while those who want to use them to save lives face shortages. Regardless of anyone’s views on the death penalty, surely we can all agree that saving lives should take priority over executing prisoners. This is yet another sign of how blinkered, cruel and unthinking US executioners have become in their desperate drive to keep on killing.”


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