Key US supplier halts execution drug manufacture, leaving Hospira isolated

October 19, 2011

An Israeli pharmaceutical company has become the latest firm to halt the manufacture of drugs used in executions in the USA.

Teva has announced that it is to stop making pancuronium bromide, the second drug in a three-part lethal injection ‘cocktail’ used by the majority of executing states in the US. The company’s exit from the execution drug market leaves just one firm, Hospira, supplying pancuronium to US death rows. Teva becomes the latest in a long line of firms which have halted or restricted supply of execution drugs. Danish-headquartered company Lundbeck took steps earlier this year to prevent the supply of their drugs to US death rows, while similar action has also been taken by Indian supplier, Kayem Pharma; Austrian manufacturer, Sandoz; and UK-based distributor, Dream Pharma. Teva recently assured Clive Stafford Smith, Director of legal action charity Reprieve, that the company currently has “no [pancuronium bromide] on the market” and “no plans to resume manufacturing of this product.” Reprieve welcomes the news that Teva is not supplying the drug for executions, in particular as pancuronium bromide is widely acknowledged to be a potentially torturous element of the lethal injection procedure. The drug is used to paralyse the prisoner, which is a purely cosmetic step in the process designed to avoid upsetting the witnesses with signs of the prisoner suffering.  If the anaesthetic fails to work, the Supreme Court has found that the condemned prisoner suffers excruciating pain, suffocating to death in agony as the third and final drug, potassium chloride, is injected. Illinois-headquartered global pharmaceutical firm Hospira is now the sole supplier of this drug to US execution chambers. Earlier this year, it stopped production of another lethal injection drug – the anaesthetic sodium thiopental – under pressure from the Italian government. Hospira had planned to manufacture the drug in one of its plants in Italy, but the Italian authorities opposed this. Purporting to take the moral high ground, Thomas Moore, president of Hospira’s US region, was quoted as saying, “We worried that if a drug made in Italy ended up in a lethal injection, it would put our facility and our employees at risk of liability.” When it comes to the more dangerous execution drug, pancuronium bromide, however, the company has maintained a strict silence. This is particularly significant in the wake of Danish pharmaceutical company, Lundbeck’s recent action to restrict the distribution of pentobarbital, another drug which was being used in lethal injections in the US. Like pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide has a limited, niche medical use, and could be easily and effectively controlled by changing the distribution system. Reprieve investigator, Maya Foa said: “This is a welcome move from Teva, leaving Hospira increasingly isolated in the moral darkness. The use of pancuronium bromide in executions makes possible the nightmare scenario that a prisoner will die in excruciating pain, unable to signal to anyone that this is happening. Hospira can and must act, before any more people die in agony.” ENDS Notes to editors 1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell or Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 2. Hospira previously stopped manufacture of sodium thiopental, a drug which was until recently widely used as the first stage of the three-part lethal injection ‘cocktail’, after coming under pressure from the Italian Government: Denmark-headquartered firm Lundbeck recently took action in order to ensure that the pentobarbital they produce can no longer reach the hands of US death rows, who used it in the lethal injection cocktail as an alternative to sodium thiopental: In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 53 (2008), the US Supreme Court stated that: “It is uncontested that, failing a proper dose of sodium thiopental that would render the prisoner unconscious, there is a … constitutionally unacceptable risk of suffocation from the administration of pancuronium bromide and pain from the injection of potassium chloride.”3. 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 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.  Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ 4. Reprieve’s Stop Lethal Injection Project investigates the use of lethal injection in the USA.  ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Website: Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Chair: Ken Macdonald QC; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Richard Rogers, Ruth Rogers, Jon Snow, Marina Warner, Vivienne Westwood