Pharmacists urged not to assist US executions (Update)

March 25, 2014 by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Several human rights and anti-death penalty groups have asked the American Pharmacists Association to prohibit members from participating in executions, a request that comes as states increasingly turn to pharmacists for lethal injection drugs.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, are targeting so-called compounded drugs. Such drugs, which are not federally regulated, are individually mixed versions of medications that prison systems are finding increasingly difficult to obtain.

Death penalty opponents say such drugs put inmates at risk of pain and suffering. Two years ago, an outbreak of meningitis that killed 64 and sickened hundreds was traced to a compounding facility in Massachusetts.

Pharmacists who provide compounded drugs are violating key provisions of the pharmacists' association code of ethics, including helping patients achieve "optimum benefit" from their medications, according to a letter the death penalty opponents presented to the association on Monday.

"Participation in executions undermines the position of trust that pharmacists enjoy in this nation," said the letter sent ahead of the association's annual meeting beginning Friday in Orlando, Florida. The letter is part of a lobbying effort spearheaded by the nonprofit group SumOfUs, which says it represents consumers and workers and seeks to "counterbalance the growing power of large corporations."

Numerous drug makers have put their products off limits for executions, drying up the supply available to prison systems. Missouri has used a compounded version of pentobarbital to execute four inmates with plans for a fifth at midnight Wednesday. Texas has used compounded pentobarbital to execute six inmates, with a seventh execution planned for Thursday.

Lawyers for death row inmates in Oklahoma have alleged the state used compounded pentobarbital to put an inmate to death in January. Michael Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning," and then he didn't move.

A plan by Georgia to use a similar specialty batch of pentobarbital has been put on hold by a lawsuit challenging the state prison agency's refusal to identify the compounding pharmacy that provided the drug. The lawsuit also questions the drug's safety and effectiveness.

In Ohio, the state's policy calls for the prison system to obtain compounded pentobarbital as a first choice, and then to use a backup method of a sedative and painkiller if the compounded drug can't be found. The state has chosen the backup method in the past two scheduled executions, although only one was carried out.

The American Medical Association prohibits members from taking action that could cause the death of a condemned inmate, although the association—like the pharmacists' group—is not a regulatory board with authority over licensing. The American Board of Anesthesiology, however, says anesthesiologists cannot participate in executions if they want board certification.

The pharmacists' association is unlikely to adopt any statement at this year's meeting because it has a long process for developing policies, spokeswoman Michelle Spinnler said in an email to The Associated Press Tuesday. She said the earliest the group's delegates could consider any proposal would be next year.

The association previously adopted policies opposing the use of the word "drug" for chemicals used in lethal injections, and opposing laws or regulations that require or prohibit pharmacists from participating in lethal injections.

Amnesty International believes the call to the pharmacists is another chance to express opposition to capital punishment, said Thenjiwe McHarris.

"Their profession is meant to preserve life, it's meant to do no harm, and the death penalty doesn't just challenge that, it's completely opposite to that mission," she said.

Any pharmacists' association policy would not affect members' ability to practice. But death penalty opponents hope that a policy change would filter down to state regulatory boards, which could require such a ban as part of licensing.

Explore further: Execution drugs spark controversy as supplies dwindle

Related Stories

Execution drugs spark controversy as supplies dwindle

October 11, 2013
The United States is turning to new drugs for lethal injections as supplies of the current standard dwindle, sparking lawsuits from death row prisoners that the changes will cause undue suffering.

Could obstacles to lethal injection lead to an end to the death penalty?​​

February 13, 2014
Access to required anesthetic agents for a lethal injection is quickly disappearing, leaving the future of the death penalty in the United States in question.

US state turns to different lethal injection drug

April 20, 2013
After surrendering its supply of a lethal injection drug to federal agents in 2011, Arkansas turned to a somewhat surprising place to look for another drug: a list from lawyers for several death row inmates.

Another manufacturer blocks drug for execution use (Update)

September 27, 2012
(AP)—A manufacturer of the anesthetic blamed for Michael Jackson's death said Thursday it won't sell propofol for use in U.S. executions, a setback for Missouri and other states looking for an alternative after other drug ...

Missouri opts for untested drug for executions

May 24, 2012
(AP) -- The same anesthetic that caused the overdose death of pop star Michael Jackson is now the drug of choice for executions in Missouri, causing a stir among critics who question how the state can guarantee a drug untested ...

States urged to register compounding pharmacies

January 10, 2014
The federal government has sent letters to states and other stakeholders across the country calling on them to encourage compounding pharmacies to register as a producer of sterile drugs in an effort to protect the public.

Recommended for you

In most surgery patients, length of opioid prescription, number of refills spell highest risk for misuse

January 17, 2018
The possible link between physicians' opioid prescription patterns and subsequent abuse has occupied the attention of a nation in the throes of an opioid crisis looking for ways to stem what experts have dubbed an epidemic. ...

Patients receive most opioids at the doctor's office, not the ER

January 16, 2018
Around the country, state legislatures and hospitals have tightened emergency room prescribing guidelines for opioids to curb the addiction epidemic, but a new USC study shows that approach diverts attention from the main ...

FDA bans use of opioid-containing cough meds by kids

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Trying to put a dent in the ongoing opioid addiction crisis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday slapped strict new restrictions on the use of opioid-containing cold and cough products by kids.

Taking ibuprofen for long periods found to alter human testicular physiology

January 9, 2018
A team of researchers from Denmark and France has found that taking regular doses of the pain reliever ibuprofen over a long period of time can lead to a disorder in men called compensated hypogonadism. In their paper published ...

Nearly one-third of Canadians have used opioids: study

January 9, 2018
Nearly one in three Canadians (29 percent) have used "some form of opioids" in the past five years, according to data released Tuesday as widespread fentanyl overdoses continue to kill.

Growing opioid epidemic forcing more children into foster care

January 8, 2018
The opioid epidemic has become so severe it's considered a national public health emergency. Addiction to prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and morphine, has contributed to a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.