Health care company takes unprecedented action to block use of propofol in US executions

September 26, 2012

Image of drugs

Health care company, Fresenius Kabi, has announced that it has put in place a comprehensive system of distribution controls to prevent its product from being used off-label to carry out executions by lethal injection.

The firm manufactures propofol, an anaesthetic which US death rows had recently begun to turn to following shortages of the barbiturates which had previously been used as part of the execution process.

In response to this development, Fresenius – which is currently the sole active supplier of propofol in the United States – has not only announced that it will not accept orders for the drug from US departments of correction, but has put in place similar requirements on all of its wholesalers and distributors.

The move means that propofol will remain available for legitimate medical use, but will be denied to US correctional facilities for off-label use in executions.

Missouri had announced in May that it was switching its execution protocol from the traditional three-drug ‘cocktail’ to a single dose of propofol – the same month as the state’s Attorney General pushed for 19 new execution dates to be set. Other states were expected to follow Missouri’s lead, as both sodium thiopental and pentobarbital – the barbiturates which had previously been used in lethal injections – were unavailable.

Maya Foa, Head of Reprieve’s Lethal Injection Project, said: “Fresenius Kabi has gone to unprecedented lengths to ensure that its medicines are used for the purpose for which they were intended: to improve and save the lives of millions of patients across the USA, and not be abused in executions. The swift, ethical action which they have taken to prevent their involvement in the lethal injection drug trade is an outstanding example to other companies in their field. US correction departments need to understand that pharma companies do not want to see their products used in executions. Fresenius Kabi is leading the way in showing how the industry can put a stop to this grotesque abuse of medicines.”


Notes to Editors

1. For further information please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: / 0207 427 1082

2. Fresenius’ action follows similar moves by Danish manufacturer, Lundbeck, which took steps to control the distribution of pentobarbital to prevent its use in executions in the US in July 2011. For more information, please see here:

3. Reprieve recently issued a new film urging corporations to sign the ‘Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath’ and prevent their drugs being used to kill: s/2012_05_17_film_slip_pharma_hippo_oath

4. Further information on the executions Missouri is scheduling can be found here:

5. 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.’

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