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Drug Makers Refuse to Sell Propofol for Death Row Executions

Drug Makers Refuse to Sell Propofol for Death Row Executions

Two more pharmaceutical companies have joined efforts to keep propofol - the anesthetic that contributed to pop star Michael Jackson's death – from being used in state executions of death-row prisoners.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an international distributor of generic propofol, announced in March 2013 that, in accordance with the wishes of its Italian manufacturer, Corden Pharma, it had established procedures to prevent the drug from being sold to prisons and corrections departments.

"Teva has shown that, like any responsible pharmaceutical company, it wishes to be in the business of saving lives, not ending them in executions," said Maya Foya of Reprieve, a London-based human rights group.

Teva's and Corden's move follows similar actions by Denmark drug makers H. Lundbeck A/S and Fresenius Kabi, both of which stopped selling generic propofol to prisons last year.

Illinois-based Hospira might also be adding itself to that list after a doctors' pension fund in Copenhagen protested the drug maker's distribution of generic propofol by selling its $8.3 million equity stake in the company in March 2013, the same month a Dutch government pension fund was considering selling its investment, as well.

"Hospira has long communicated that we do not support the use of any of our products in lethal injection," wrote Daniel Rosenberg, a Hospira spokesman, in an e-mailed statement. The company, however, has yet to announce plans to control distribution of those products.

An increasing number of pharmaceutical companies have ceased selling drugs commonly used for executions, including sodium thiopental, to corrections departments, leading to the May 2012 announcement by Missouri prison officials that they would replace the state's three-drug formula for lethal injections with only propofol, then made exclusively by AstraZeneca.

Following Missouri's announcement, however, the state's Supreme Court ruled last year that single-drug executions there are suspended while death-row prisoners challenge them in court.

A few states have replaced sodium thiopental with pentobarbital–a barbiturate used to treat anxiety and convulsive disorders like epilepsy–and used it in at least 50 executions in the past three years. At least two other states besides Missouri (Arizona and Ohio) have decided to use just a single drug.

In April 2012, Arizona used only pentobarbital for the first time to execute Thomas Kemp, 63, who had been convicted of murder 20 years prior. Observers were disturbed that Kemp shook for several seconds after the injection.


Sources: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Dow Jones Newswires,, Associated Press

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