Texas must follow Missouri in returning execution drugs to suppliers

October 15, 2013

Image of drugs

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is facing calls to return medicines it purchased for use in executions using misleading methods, after Missouri finally handed back drugs to their supplier last week.

Missouri last Wednesday returned its supplies of propofol, an anaesthetic which it had planned to use to carry out lethal injections, after manufacturer Fresenius Kabi warned of “terrible consequences” if they were used to carry out the death penalty.

Fresenius, which is headquartered in Germany, argued that the use of propofol in US executions would trigger European export controls which could lead to shortages of the life-saving anaesthetic across the USA.  Missouri’s Governor said on Friday that executions using propofol should be halted in the interests of ‘making sure justice is served and public health is protected’ and instructed the Department of Corrections to return Fresenius’ drugs.

Meanwhile, Texas is continuing to refuse to return its supplies of pentobarbital, another anaesthetic used in executions, to Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy – despite the supplier writing to “demand that TDCJ immediately return” them.  The owner of Woodlands has complained that “the State of Texas misrepresented [the facts]” when purchasing the drugs.

Another compounding pharmacy, Pharmacy Innovations, blocked shipments of pentobarbital to Texas after discovering the state’s intention to use them in executions – which TDCJ had attempted to disguise by ordering them under the name of a hospital which closed in the 1980s.

A spokesman for the compounding industry, David Ball, told Reuters yesterday that “No compounding pharmacy that I know of is actively seeking this business,” adding: “Every pharmacist that I know chose their profession in part out of a desire to help people, and that is what they focus on in their work.”

Maya Foa, Director of legal charity Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Executioners everywhere need to learn that responsible pharma firms and pharmacies do not want to be involved in the death penalty.  They are in the business of saving lives, not ending them.  The abuse of medicines in executions not only undermines the purpose for which these medicines were produced, it also puts the lives of patients and citizens all over the US at risk.   Texas needs to follow Missouri’s lead and hand back the drugs they acquired by underhand means – and which the suppliers are reasonably asking to have returned.”


Notes to editors

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

2. The letter from Woodlands to TDCJ is available on Reprieve’s website.

3. According to court documents, Pharmacy Innovations was “completely unaware that the drugs … were purchased with the intent to use them for lethal injections,” and once informed, “cancelled the order before it had been filled.”  They also reveal that TDCJ had attempted to purchase under the cover name of the Huntsville Unit Hospital – even though the hospital has not existed since 1983.

4. Missouri announced in a statement last week that it would be returning its supplies of propofol to Germany-headquartered pharmaceutical firm Fresenius Kabi. The Governor’s comments can be found here.

5. Pharmacy industry spokesman David Ball’s comments can be found here.