Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Pharmacist Associations Take Stand Against Death Penalty

Pharmacist Associations Take Stand Against Death Penalty

by Greg Dober

On March 2015, two professional associations that represent pharmacists urged their members to stop providing drugs used in executions.

The International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists issued a statement to its membership that the organization’s Board of Directors had adopted a position discouraging participation in the preparation, dispensing or distribution of compounded medications for use in lethal injections. In its statement, the Academy reminded its members that states are turning to compounding pharmacies for execution drugs as a result of manufacturers deciding to stop selling certain drugs that can be used in lethal injections. [See: PLN, June 2011, p.1].

Additionally, on March 30, 2015, the House of Delegates of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) voted to adopt a policy dissuading its 62,000 members from assisting in executions. The policy states: “The American Pharmacists Association discourages pharmacist participation in executions on the basis that such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care.” A statement released by APhA Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan noted, “Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role on the patient health care team.”

Although the policies are not legally binding on pharmacists, it is encouraging that both organizations have adopted such positions. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to sell dual-use drugs such as propofol and sodium thiopental to government agencies for executions because they were originally designed for therapeutic purposes such as surgery and pain relief.

For example, 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, the company had established procedures to prevent the drug from being sold to 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,” stated Maya Foya of Reprieve, a London-based human rights group.

The move by Teva and Corden Pharma followed similar actions by Denmark drug makers H. Lundbeck A/S and Fresenius Kabi, both of which have stopped selling generic propofol for use in executions.

Hospira, a U.S. company, has objected to its drugs – including midazolam and hydromorphone – being used in lethal injections and has restricted distribution of certain medications to prison systems.

As sources for execution drugs have dried up, state prison officials have increasingly turned to compounding pharmacies to create the chemicals needed for lethal injections, even though compounded drugs have been linked to botched executions in several states. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.46].

While the American Medical Association (AMA) also has a legally non-binding policy which discourages physicians from cooperating in executions, that has not created a shortage of medical professionals, including doctors, willing to take part in capital punishment. Now that two pharmacist associations have followed the trend of limiting participation in executions and restricting the availability of lethal injection drugs, that may have a greater impact on the death penalty than the AMA’s policy.

In response to these developments, some states are taking extreme measures to ensure executions can continue. In March 2015, legislation was passed in Utah to reinstate the firing squad should lethal injection no longer be available. Also, on April 18, 2015, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill that would allow executions by nitrogen gas.

“I think it’s the best thing we’ve come up with since the start of executions by the government,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mike Christian, a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.

Opponents noted that nitrogen gas has never been used to put people to death.

“The absence of any scientific basis for the gas reduces the execution to an experiment and we do not know what will happen,” observed Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.


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


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login