Georgia joins nationwide scramble for Danish lethal injection drugs

April 13, 2011

Georgia is set to become the sixth US state to proceed with experimental executions thanks to Danish corporation Lundbeck

 The state is reportedly preparing to join Oklahoma, Ohio and Texas in adopting a new and untested procedure involving pentobarbital, a Lundbeck-produced sedative more commonly used to euthanize animals. Arizona and Mississippi have also recently announced plans to make the switch.

Yet despite this growing use of Danish drugs to prop up the US death penalty – to which the European Union is strongly opposed – both Lundbeck’s management and the Danish government are refusing to take the action necessary to block the sale of pentobarbital to kill prisoners.

Denmark’s failure stands in stark contrast with strong action from other European states and corporations. Both the British and Italian governments have taken steps to prevent drugs manufactured in their countries from being used in US executions, while Indian pharmaceutical company Kayem is the latest in a string of manufacturers to withdraw from the lethal injection drug market.

The move towards the use of pentobarbital has been triggered by US shortages of the anaesthetic sodium thiopental, a result of increasing global reluctance to supply prisons with drugs used for lethal injections. Lundbeck’s pentobarbital is now the only available lethal injection anaesthetic in the USA.

Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said: 

“Lundbeck doesn’t wish to be associated with capital punishment, yet they will soon be implicated in every execution that takes place in the US. With each execution, Lundbeck and the Danish government’s failure to take action makes them increasingly isolated in abolitionist Europe.”

Although it is widely used in putting down animals, the safety risks of using pentobarbital to kill humans have not been clinically assessed. Notably, Lundbeck has rejected calls to investigate the safety of execution procedures using its own pentobarbital, despite claiming it is doing “all it can” to prevent the use of its products in executions.


For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer Lundbeck recently voted to continue supplying pentobarbital for lethal injections in the USA. The company’s management refused to put in place straightforward ‘end-user agreements’ to prevent its drug being used to kill human beings, and subsequently refused to conduct a basic investigation into the safety of its product for executions. Four states, including Texas, have now switched to Lundbeck’s pentobarbital; Texas is the busiest executing state in the US, with seven executions already scheduled. Therefore, potentially hundreds more deaths involving Lundbeck drugs can be expected to take place.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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