British firm moves to end supply of execution drugs to US

May 15, 2013

Image of drugs

A UK pharmaceutical firm has announced that it is “putting in place concrete steps” to stop the use of its drugs in executions.

Hikma PLC, which is headquartered in London, made the announcement after it emerged that executioners at Arkansas Department of Corrections (DoC) had acquired drugs from the firm’s subsidiary, West-Ward, which they intended to use to kill prisoners.

Arkansas had recently announced that it was moving to a new untested execution drug, called phenobarbital, after supplies of previously-used drugs were shut off.  Papers filed with courts in the US have pointed out that the untested nature of the new 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.”

In a statement released today, Hikma announced it was taking “concrete steps” to prevent “unintended uses” of its drugs:

“Phenobarbital is the world’s most widely used anti-convulsant. Hikma strongly objects to the use of any of its products in capital punishment. The Company is putting in place concrete steps to restrict the supply of its products for unintended uses. It has ceased the direct sale of injectable phenobarbital to US departments of corrections and will work directly with its distribution partners to add restrictions for unintended use to its distribution contracts.”

Maya Foa, Deputy Director of the Death Penalty team at Reprieve, welcomed the news:

“We are very pleased to hear that Hikma are actively working to prevent their drugs being used in executions.  Their action, like that of many other companies before them, demonstrates that the pharmaceutical industry is not willing to see its drugs used to kill prisoners. Medicines are made to save and improve lives, not end them in executions. Departments of Correction in the US must take heed of this message.”


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: