Lundbeck, the sole producer of lethal injection drug pentobarbital, announces it is blocking supply to US execution chambers

July 1, 2011

The producer of a key anaesthetic used in the lethal injection process has announced that it is putting in place robust and unprecedented measures to block its use in executions. Denmark-headquartered pharmaceutical company Lundbeck is taking dramatic steps to stop its product pentobarbital (also known as Nembutal) reaching death rows across the USA. Through a combination of specialty pharmacy, drop-ship distribution and contract agreements with buyers, Lundbeck will effectively control who has a right to purchase the drug. According to a Lundbeck press release: “Under the program, Lundbeck will review all Nembutal orders before providing clearance for shipping the product and deny orders from prisons located in states currently active in carrying out death penalty sentences. Prior to receiving Nembutal, the purchaser must sign a form stating that the purchase of Nembutal is for its own use and that it will not redistribute any purchased product without express written authorization from Lundbeck.” Lundbeck’s action comes in response to the growing number of US states which were starting to use pentobarbital in lethal injections following domestic shortages of the previously-used anaesthetic sodium thiopental. To date, eight states have so far carried out a total of 18 executions using the new drug, of which Lundbeck is the sole producer in the US. Legal action charity Reprieve is now calling on other pharmaceutical companies to put in place similar safeguards, and for the EU to act collectively to block exports to the US of all execution drugs. The desperation of the US Government became clear last month, when German Trade Minister Philipp Rösler was asked by his US counterpart Gary Locke to ‘help out’ with supplies of sodium thiopental (a request which was denied). Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said: “This is a welcome step by Lundbeck, which shows that it is possible to take action to stop the supply of drugs for use in executions. “Other pharmaceutical companies should now follow Lundbeck’s example; Lundbeck has proven that manufacturers can control the use and distribution of their drugs: any company manufacturing execution drugs who refuses to take such steps will be directly complicit in executions. “We also need to see action from the European Commission to block the export of execution drugs from the EU to the US. Several European firms have already become involved in this grim business on their watch – this must not be allowed to happen again.”ENDS Notes to editors 1. For further information please contact Donald Campbell or Katherine O’Shea in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0)20 7427 1082 2. Lundbeck’s press release, detailing the steps which they are taking, can be found here. A comprehensive timeline of events and documentation in Reprieve’s Stop Lethal Injection project is here. 3. The eight states which have so far carried out executions using pentobarbital, and the names of the people executed, are as follows: Alabama: Jason Williams, Eddie PowellGeorgia: Roy Willard BlankenshipMississippi: Benny Stevens, Rodney GrayOklahoma: John David Duty, Billy Don Alverson, Jeffrey MatthewsOhio: Johnnie Baston, Clarence Carter, Daniel BedfordSouth Carolina: Jeffrey MottsTexas: Cary Kerr, Gayland Bradford, Lee Andrew Taylor, Milton MathisArizona: Donald Beaty, Richard BibleReprieve, 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.