Pfizer demands return of drugs set for use in US lethal injections

By Dan Stanton contact

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/AVNphotolab
GettyImages/AVNphotolab
The Big Pharma firm says it strongly objects to its products being used for capital punishment and has asked 31 states to return drugs.

On November 9, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services issued a notice​ that the upcoming execution by lethal injection of prisoner Jose Sandoval would involve the administration of diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate, and potassium chloride. No execution date has been set, and the state has not revealed where it sourced the drugs.

However, Diazepam, fentanyl citrate and potassium chloride are manufactured by Pfizer and its 2015 acquisition Hospira​, and are among the drugs listed in its latest policy position on the use of its products in lethal injections for capital punishment.

According to Thomas Biegi, a spokesperson from the Big Pharma firm, “Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. We strongly object to the use of any of our products in the lethal injection process for capital punishment.”

He told in-Pharmatechnologist that the firm has therefore contacted all 31 state Departments of Corrections which permit the use of lethal injection for capital punishment – including Nebraska’s – saying it “strongly objects”​ to its products being used in such a manner.

“We have asked all such states to return any Hospira or Pfizer manufactured Restricted Product in their possession and provided them with procedures to follow in return for a full refund.”

Pfizer’s policy restricts the sale of thirteen products – atracurium besylate, diazepam, etomidate, fentanyl citrate, hydromorphone, midazolam, pancuronium bromide, potassium acetate, potassium chloride, potassium phosphates, propofol, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide – to wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers which under the condition that they will not resell them to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections.

Pfizer is not alone in restricting the use of its products in lethal injection executions in the US. Over 30 drugmakers, pharmacies and distributors – including Eli Lilly, J&J, Hikma and Mylan – have spoken out on the subject. (A full list​ has been collated by human rights NGO Reprieve).

As such, states have struggled over the past few years to source drugs for lethal injections, and have resorted to actions including firing squads​ and makeshift drug cocktails​ to carry out executions.

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