Texas is facing a depleted supply after a Danish drug maker announced two years ago that it would no longer supply the drug for use in executions, thanks in part to pressure from multiple groups in Europe that have unexpectedly thrown up obstacles to U.S. states carrying out the death penalty.
In early 2011, Danish drug maker Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital (sold under the name Nembutal), discovered that U.S. states were using its product in lethal injections. The complex international distribution networks of pharmaceuticals often make it difficult for manufacturers to know exactly where their products end up. But once pentobarbital’s use in U.S. executions came to light, many in Denmark were upset that medicine made in a country that abolished the death penalty decades ago was being used for ending lives rather than saving them.
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By spring 2011, Danish newspapers were regularly publishing stories about pentobarbital’s use as several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and U.K.-based Reprieve, issued press releases to highlight each new execution that used drugs made by Lundbeck. In June 2011, Dr. David Nicholl – a neurologist and human rights activist – wrote an open letter to Ulf Wiinberg, the chief executive of Lundbeck. The letter, signed by more than 60 other doctors and academics urging the company to halt its U.S. supply, was published in the medical journal The Lancet.
“As clinicians and prescribers of Lundbeck’s products, we are appalled at the inaction of Lundbeck to prevent the supply of their drug, Nembutal (pentobarbital), for use in executions in the USA,” the letter stated. “Pentobarbital is rapidly proving to be the drug of choice for US executions. Lundbeck should restrict distribution of pentobarbital to legitimate users … but not to executioners.”
Three weeks later, Lundbeck said it would no longer allow the drug to be used in U.S. executions and began reviewing all orders of the drug and denying U.S. prisons looking to order it. Now, states like Texas, Georgia and Missouri are grappling with how to continue their planned executions. ...
To halt its supply, Lundbeck worked with human rights group Reprieve to simplify its distribution model, essentially taking out middlemen so the company could more easily identify who ended up with its products. Maya Foa, deputy director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, says that her organization’s goal isn’t to end capital punishment in the U.S. but merely to get pharmaceutical companies to follow the Hippocratic oath to do no harm.
“Their reason to be is to make medicine to save lives,” Foa says.
Pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal, is used for euthanasia and assisted suicide.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) agrees that companies should follow the Hippocratic oath and do no harm.