Pharma firms must put in place execution drug controls as US states push ahead with new ‘cocktail’

February 26, 2014

Two pharmaceutical companies, one of which describes itself as “one of the biggest…in the UK,” are facing urgent calls to put in place new controls on drugs which could be used in executions.

Akorn, headquartered in Illinois, produces midazolam, a sedative which is currently being used by Florida and Ohio to carry out lethal injections.

Teva, a global company which “suppl[ies] more packs of medicines to the NHS than anyone else,” produces two paralytic agents – rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide – which are used by Virginia and Florida respectively as part of their three-drug execution ‘cocktails.’

Although it is not certain that any US state has yet procured the relevant drugs from either of the companies, both have so far failed to put in place distribution controls which would prevent this from happening.  This failure stands in contrast to the other US manufacturers of the drugs in question, which have taken simple and effective steps to prevent their medicines being used to fuel executions.

Florida is today [Wednesday] due to carry out its fifth execution using midazolam as part of a three-drug cocktail that was first used on William Happ in October last year; Happ reportedly took twice as long to die as is normal.

Problems with the previously-untested lethal injection drug have been widespread – when Ohio first used midazolam as part of a two-drug combination in January, eyewitnesses reported that the prisoner took nearly half an hour to die.

Just last week, Virginia joined Florida and Ohio, announcing that it too would make midazolam one of the drugs available for use in executions.

Legal charity Reprieve has raised with both Akorn and Teva the need for them to move urgently to put in place effective controls in order to ensure they do not become involved in the death penalty process, but has yet to receive a satisfactory response.

Teva has previously acted to put in place controls on an anaesthetic, propofol, after it emerged that executioners were planning to use it to kill, but has yet to take the same positive action on the two paralysing agents.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty team said: “Executioners are increasingly turning to these new drugs in order to kill.  If Akorn and Teva fail to take swift, decisive action, they face the very real threat of becoming the go-to suppliers of execution drugs across the USA.  If Teva and Akorn wish to preserve their reputation as responsible pharmaceutical companies, they must ensure their drugs can only be used to save lives, not end them in executions.”


Notes to editors:

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

2. Information on Teva UK can be found here:

3. According to media reports, “[William] Happ was pronounced dead 14 minutes after injection – double the amount of time it typically takes using the old formula”:

4.  According to media reports, “Eyewitnesses in the death chamber reported that it took up to 26 minutes for [Dennis] McGuire to die, making it the longest execution in Ohio in modern times.”

5. Information regarding Teva’s previous action on propofol can be found here:

6. Companies which have put distribution controls in place on drugs that could be used in executions include:  Fresenius Kabi, Hikma, Hospira, Lundbeck, Sandoz, Teva, Siegfried and Purdue.