Move not expected to trigger state legislative action any time soon
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state of Texas has executed more than a third of all inmates in the nation.
But Texas and 7 others that use pentobarbital - a sedative and sleep-inducing drug - to execute inmates find themselves with a short supply of the barbiturate.
To complicate matters, at their annual meeting in San Diego, the American Pharmacists Association delegates on Monday adopted a policy that makes an ethical stand against supplying such drugs to those states on grounds that the drugs they sell are for helping people, not for killing them.
"Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession's role on the patient health care team," the association's CEO Thomas Menighan said in a statement posted on the organization's website.
"This new policy aligns APhA with the execution policies of other major health care associations including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Board of Anesthesiology." Menighan said.
The website also recognized "the move could make executions harder for states that have been ordering their drugs from compounding pharmacies."
Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the agency in charge of executions in the state, said his office had no comment on the association's new policy.
As for the short supply of the lethal drugs, "the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has obtained a new supply of pentobarbital, which will allow the agency to carry out executions that are scheduled for the month of April," Clark said in an email.
"The drugs were purchased from a licensed pharmacy that has the ability to compound," Clark said. "We continue to explore all options, including the continued used of pentobarbital or alternate drugs to use in the lethal injection process."
Rick Halperin, a death penalty opponent who praised the association's move, said Texas and the other states that execute inmates with lethal injections are going to have to rely on drugs from compounding pharmacies and those narcotics are difficult to get.
Compounding pharmacies combine, mix or alter drugs to meet specific needs of buyers and patients.
Regular pharmacies "are going to be reluctant," to sell the lethal drugs those states want, said Halperin, director of the Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"I think 1 or 2 things are going to be in the bigger picture: in the short term, Halperin said. "I think states like Utah, Wyoming and Oklahoma that are determined to kill inmates at any cost will have discussions about other methods like firing squads, nitrogen (gas) and the electric chair.
"So, I think we are going to re-visit the discussion of those terrible methods that were stopped years ago," he predicted. "Lethal injection was first used in the United States, in Texas, in December of 1982, so it's been about 33 years that Texas has used the needle."
However, the shortage of lethal drugs is not likely to be addressed in the current session of the Texas Legislature, unless Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - the presiding officer of the Senate - issue special authorization.
The green light would be necessary because the bill-filing deadline for this session was March 13.
On the flip side of the issue, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, filed bills aimed at abolishing the death penalty in Texas.
Although Dutton said at a recent press conference that the state government shouldn't be in the death business, his and Lucio's proposals are not expected to pass in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
A recent poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune showed 3 of every 4 Texans support the death penalty for violent crimes.
In addition, Abbott - who was the state attorney general for 12 years before being elected to his current post - is a staunch supporter of the death penalty.
Last summer, Abbott even accused his Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, of flip flopping on the issue.
Source: Lubbock Avalance-Journal, April 2, 2015
Why death penalty states may have harder time finding lethal-injection drugs
States that administer the death penalty could face additional obstacles after 2 groups representing pharmacists told their members to stop providing drugs for use in lethal injection.
On Monday, the American Pharmacists Association voted to oppose participation in executions, stating that to help put a person to death violates the goals of the profession. The move comes just one week after the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists adopted a similar position.
"It's never been legal in the US to write a prescription to execute a person," William Fassett, the board member and professor emeritus of pharmacotherapy at Washington State University, Spokane, who drafted the policy, told The Huffington Post. "The basic federal law is that a prescription is to be used for medical proposes in the context of an established patient-physician relationship."
While neither policy is legally binding, experts suspect that the measures will dissuade specialty pharmacists, who recently became the only source for lethal injections in many states, from selling their products for use in executions. Moreover, the decision was made with almost no opposition within the association, as the lethal-injection cocktails has become both unprofitable and unpopular.
Compounding pharmacies, which combine, mix, or alter drugs to meet the needs of a patient with a specific prescription, only recently became involved in the execution-drug business.
For decades, pharmaceutical manufacturers sold the drugs used in lethal-injection cocktails directly to state officials. But in 2011, under pressure from anti-death penalty activists in the United States and abroad, the companies stopped selling their goods to correctional systems. That same year, the European Union instituted an export ban on lethal-injection drugs. It was then that the states turned to compounding pharmacies for the special orders.
But the cocktails produced by the compounding pharmacies are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and critics have expressed doubts about the quality of the drugs. The Supreme Court is expected in April to hear arguments in a case weighing whether 1 drug used in used in Oklahoma executions violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and usual punishment. 3 states - Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio - have issued temporary moratoriums on executions this year.
Protesters also have targeted compounding pharmacies known to supply drugs for executions. As a result, several pharmacies have decided not to sell the drugs to prisons.
"Executions are bad for business for compounding pharmacies for the same reason they were bad for business for the pharmaceutical companies," Corinna Lain, professor at the Richmond School of Law, told NBC News.
"The cost of these drugs has skyrocketed from something like $83 a vial to $1,200 to $1,500 a vial. But that's still a drop in the bucket for a pharmacy's total sales. And look at the downside - the negative publicity is tremendous," Professor Lain said.
The attention from activists eventually led to the adoption of the new policy, observers say. Last year, after members of the activist group SumofUs.org noticed that pharmacists were not prohibited from participating in executions by professional oaths or organizations, they decided to lobby, the Huffington Post reported.
The organization partnered with Amnesty International, the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, and other groups to send a letter co-signed by 31 human rights organizations and religious denominations to the pharmacists' association, requesting that it take a stand against pharmacists participating in executions.
"The question about whether pharmacists should be involved in executions is a very recent one," Kelsey Kauffman, a senior adviser at the activist group SumofUs.org, told The Huffington Post. "The [American Medical Association] and nurses associations have had to deal with it for decades."
Doctors and anesthesiologists have long had national associations with ethics codes that restrict credentialed members from participating in executions. Now, the pharmacists have decided to join their ranks.
The American Pharmacists Association has more than 62,000 members, and its policies set the ethnical standards of its members.
"Now there is unanimity among all health professions in the United States who represent anybody who might be asked to be involved in this process," the American Pharmacists Association's Fassett told the Associated Press.
Several states have approved alternatives to lethal injection, such as the electric chair and the firing squad, as lethal-injection drugs became more difficult to acquire.
Source: Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 2015
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