The SLIP story


The SLIP campaign began in Autumn 2010, when Reprieve received a call from a lawyer in Arizona who needed help identifying the source of the execution drugs the state intended to use to execute his client that evening. Reprieve traced that source back to a driving school-cum-wholesaler in West London: the now notorious Dream Pharma.

 BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: Lethal injection drug sold from UK driving school

Dream Pharma had been selling execution drugs to states across the USA since the summer of 2010. The drugs were not US FDA-approved, and the manufacturers of the drugs had no idea of Dream Pharma’s activities. When the original manufacturers learnt of the unlawful exports, they were horrified. Reprieve requested that the British Government immediately put controls in place to prevent further exports of these medicines to US prisons for use in executions. Within a month of Reprieve learning about the exports, the British Government agreed to put an export control in place on sodium thiopental, then the execution drug of choice across the USA, and the flow of execution drugs from the UK to the US was successfully halted.

Ed Zagorski

Unable to purchase execution drugs from Britain, US state prisons turned to Italy, where American manufacturer, Hospira, wanted to recommence manufacture of the sought-after execution drug. Reprieve worked with the Italian government to let Hospira know that drugs made in Italy should not be used to execute prisoners in the United States. Since there was little medical need for the drug in the USA, Hospira made the decision to cease manufacture in January of 2011.

Financial Times: US drugmaker to stop making drugs used in executions

Following this, some states tried to import execution drugs from India. The Indian pharmaceutical companies had no interest in seeing their reputations sullied by association with dangerous executions in the USA, and with the help of Reprieve, worked to ensure that their medicines were protected from abuse. Other states turned to a new drug, pentobarbital, to carry out lethal injections. Reprieve then worked with Lundbeck, the manufacturer of this drug, to put in place unprecedented distribution controls to ensure that it was sold to legitimate medical users only, and not sold to prisons for use in executions.

Lundbeck website – Lundbeck awarded for ethical leadership in the pharmaceutical industry

Lundbeck’s new distribution controls came into force in July 2011, and since then, no further supplies of manufactured pentobarbital have been sold to prisons for use in executions, forcing states across the USA to halt executions or change their protocols. Since this point, Reprieve has worked closely with over a dozen other companies who have taken similar steps to ensure their products are sold for legitimate medical use only, and not sold to prisons for use in executions. A new industry best practice has been set, and manufacturers across the globe are now actively protecting their life-saving medicines from being sold to US prisons for use in lethal injections – with notable examples including Fresenius Kabi/APP, Sun Pharma, Naari, Kayem, Par Pharmaceuticals, Hikma, Merck, Sandoz, Tamarang, and Siegfried.

Distribution controls that work: How manufacturers can prevent the sale of their drugs for use in executions   

 Manufacturer action on execution drugs


Press Releases

  • Second US state plans execution using ‘DIY drugs’

    November 13, 2012

    South Dakota is joined by Pennsylvania, now the second state set to kill a prisoner using so-called ‘DIY drugs’ – produced in a compounding pharmacy of the same type thought to be responsible for the recent meningitis outbreak in the US.

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