British firm supplying execution drugs to US

May 15, 2013

Image of drugs

A UK-headquartered company is supplying lethal injection drugs to Arkansas Death Row, it has emerged.

The US state recently announced that it was moving to a new execution drug, called phenobarbital, after supplies of previously-used drugs were shut off by companies which did not want to see their products used to execute.

It has since been revealed that Arkansas Department of Corrections (DoC) obtained the phenobarbital from West-Ward pharmaceuticals, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hikma plc, which has its headquarters in London.

Recent moves by a number of global pharmaceutical companies – including Lundbeck, Fresenius Kabi, Teva and Hospira – to restrict the supply of a number of barbiturates in order to prevent their use in executions has left executioners in the US struggling to find the means by which to carry out the death penalty.

However, despite being warned by human rights charity Reprieve that their drugs are being used in this way, neither parent company Hikma nor West-Ward have yet followed the example of their competitors in taking concrete steps to restrict supply.

Arkansas is the first – and so far, only – state to switch to phenobarbital, which has not previously been used in executions.  Papers filed with courts in the US have pointed out that the untested nature of the drug in this context may result in prisoners not necessarily being killed but instead left in a “vegetative state” or with “devastating injuries that will cause prolonged suffering.”

Maya Foa, Deputy Head of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team said: “It’s very disappointing to see a British firm fuelling executions in the USA. Hikma claims to be ‘committed to improving people’s lives’ yet the firm is apparently happy for its drugs to be used in the potentially torturous executions of prisoners in the USA. This callous indifference to the suffering of prisoners and disregard for corporate social responsibility is all the more surprising in light of the ethical steps taken by other manufacturers implicated in the execution drug trade. Hikma knows that it can prevent its drugs from being used to kill, just as other firms have done, yet it is choosing to do nothing. If no action is taken, Hikma may soon become the prime provide of execution drugs across the USA.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 /

2. Papers filed with the Arkansas Circuit Court warn about the potential impact of using phenobarbital in executions in the manner proposed by Arkansas DoC – see especially pars 51-3:

3. Arkansas Department of Correction has publicly announced that it has acquired a supply of phenobarbital and intends to use it to kill prisoners: “Department of Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the agency spent about $20,000 to buy lorazepam and phenobarbital, even though phenobarbital apparently hasn’t been used in a U.S. execution before and lawyers for some death row inmates say it may be unsuitable for that purpose […] ‘The phenobarbital would be the one that would kill them,’ Wilson said.’ (‘Arkansas has enough drugs to carry out executions,’ Associated Press, 17 April 2013:–Execution-Drug-Arkansas)

Arkansas DoC obtained the supply of phenobarbital from a company called West-Ward Pharmaceuticals (‘Arkansas turns to different lethal injection drug,’ Associated Press, 19 April 2013:

West-Ward is a wholly-owned subsidiary of UK-Headquartered firm Hikma. See:

Companies House lists Hikma Pharmaceuticals PLC as being headquartered at 13 Hanover Square, London.

4. Hikma’s AGM is on Thursday 16 May.