On May 13th, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer officially announced its decision to stop supplying drugs for use in lethal injections. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “every major pharmaceutical company that produces drugs that have been used in lethal injections has voiced opposition in executions,” meaning Pfizer’s new position effectively closes the final open market source of lethal injection drugs, inevitably impacting correctional agencies nationwide.
Pfizer’s merger with drug company Hospira in September led to this restriction as the company gained control over several products that had previously been used in executions. While this move limits the available supply of drugs, it does not stop the controversial scramble for alternative drug sources.
Ever since the only federally approved factory for sodium thiopental (one of the three approved drugs used in lethal injection) closed in 2009, correctional facilities have gone to great lengths to obtain the drugs. Several states have changed their lethal injection protocols to include other drugs while also resorting to the use of compounding pharmacies, which are free from FDA oversight, to obtain these drugs. Georgia, Missouri, and Texas have likely relied on compounding pharmacies to acquire the drugs now used in executions.
The “confidentiality” laws enacted by many states, including Tennessee, also allow the states to keep their sources hidden from the public. The New York Times reports that a majority of states with the death penalty impose secrecy around their drug sources in order to protect those sources from “violence from death penalty opponents.” However, Robert Durham of the Death Penalty Information Center contends that this reason is nothing be a smokescreen, saying: “The secrecy is not designed to protect the manufacturers, it is designed to keep the manufacturers in the dark about misuse of their products.”
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