Lundbeck refuses to ask US court to prevent the use of their drugs in executions

May 12, 2011

Pharmaceutical company Lundbeck has refused to submit testimony to a US court opposing the use of its drugs in executions. On behalf of capital defence lawyers in Alabama, legal action charity Reprieve had asked the company to submit an ‘amicus curiae’ brief to Alabama’s Supreme Court, voicing opposition to the use of Lundbeck-produced pentobarbital in the impending execution of Jason Williams and confirming that such use of the product was untested and not recommended. However, Lundbeck has so far refused to take this simple action, even though it could help to stave off the increasing use of their products in US execution chambers – something to which they have claimed to be ‘adamantly opposed’ and to be doing ‘all they can’ to prevent. Reprieve Investigator Maya Foa said:

“It is hard to see why Lundbeck would not take this straightforward opportunity which could help to save a life. With increasing numbers of US states using Lundbeck’s drugs to kill people, surely this is the very least they could do. “There is still time for Lundbeck to change their mind and take this simple step. If they continue to refuse, their company ‘code of ethics’ will not be worth the paper it’s printed on.”

ENDSNotes to editors For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0)20 7427 1082 / (0)7791 755 415 1. Reprieve submitted a suggested draft of an amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) brief to Lundbeck, which set out their opposition to the use of their drug Nembutal (another name for the barbiturate pentobarbital) in the execution of prisoners (a position Lundbeck has previously voiced publicly); voiced concerns over the use of the product for purposes for which it was not intended and potential safety implications; and stressed that such a use went against the company’s ethical position. However, Lundbeck claimed regulatory issues prevented them from doing so – it is unclear what these issues are. Copies of the suggested draft amicus curiae brief and relevant correspondence with Lundbeck are available on request. 2. Jason Williams is scheduled to be executed in Alabama on Thursday 19 May 2011, using a three-drug cocktail which includes Lundbeck’s Nembutal (pentobarbital). Williams’ lawyers were only recently notified of Alabama’s decision to switch from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital and the prison has released very limited information about their new lethal injection protocol. Veterinarians commonly use pentobarbital to put down animals, but they specifically rule out its use as part of a three drug cocktail in this manner due to safety concerns. 3. Increasing numbers of US states have started using pentobarbital in executions as domestic supplies of the (until recently) widely used anaesthetic sodium thiopental have dried up. Lundbeck is the sole supplier of pentobarbital in the US. 4. Seven prisoners have now been executed in the US using Lundbeck’s drugs, most recently Jeffrey Motts in South Carolina. 5. The increasing number of states using Lundbeck’s pentobarbital in executions includes those with the busiest (Texas) and second-busiest (Virginia) death chambers in the country. Virginia’s switch was reported earlier this week (9 May 2011).

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.