"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pfizer Blocks the Use of Its Drugs in Executions

Pfizer World Headquarters
Pfizer World Headquarters
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Friday that it has imposed sweeping controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections, a step that closes off the last remaining open-market source of drugs used in executions.

More than 20 American and European drug companies have already adopted such restrictions, citing either moral or business reasons. Nonetheless, the decision from one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers is seen as a milestone.

“With Pfizer’s announcement, all F.D.A.-approved manufacturers of any potential execution drug have now blocked their sale for this purpose,” said Maya Foa, who tracks drug companies for Reprieve, a London-based human rights advocacy group. “Executing states must now go underground if they want to get hold of medicines for use in lethal injection.”

The obstacles to lethal injection have grown in the last five years as manufacturers, seeking to avoid association with executions, have barred the sale of their products to corrections agencies. Experiments with new drugs, a series of botched executions and covert efforts to obtain lethal chemicals have mired many states in court challenges.

The mounting difficulty in obtaining lethal drugs has already caused states to furtively scramble for supplies.

Some states have used straw buyers or tried to import drugs from abroad that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, only to see them seized by federal agents. Some have covertly bought supplies from compounding pharmacies while others, including Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio, have been forced to delay executions for months or longer because of drug shortages or legal issues tied to injection procedures.

A few states have adopted the electric chair, firing squad or the gas chamber as an alternative if lethal drugs are not available. Since Utah chooses to have a death penalty, “we have to have a means of carrying it out,” said State Representative Paul Ray as he argued last year for reauthorization of the state’s death penalty.

Lawyers for condemned inmates have challenged the efforts of corrections officials to conceal how the drugs are obtained, saying this makes it impossible to know if they meet quality standards or might cause undue suffering.

Source: The New York Times, May 13, 2016

Pfizer blocks drug sales to American executioners

The world's second largest pharmaceutical firm has today officially withdrawn from the lethal injection drug trade, imposing strict distribution controls to prevent its drugs reaching execution chambers across the USA.

In a strong statement released this afternoon, global giant Pfizer confirmed its opposition to the misuse of its medicines in American executions and its commitment to block all sales for that purpose.

This is a critical turning point in the history of capital punishment in America. From today, all FDA-approved manufacturers of all potential execution drugs - a diverse group of 25 global companies - have blocked their sale for use in executions.

As the biggest and best-known supplier, Pfizer's announcement cements the mainstream pharmaceutical industry position on lethal injection executions. It reflects widespread unease about the procedure, and raises fundamental questions about the administration of the death penalty in America.

Pfizer's investors played a role in its decision. One major shareholder - the New York State’s pension fund, the third largest in the US - has repeatedly raised fiscal and legal concerns following 'botched' procedures in states like Ohio and Oklahoma.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director at Reprieve, said:

“Pfizer’s new policy is exemplary. In restricting distribution of its medicines to legitimate medical users and preventing sales to death rows, Pfizer is protecting its products, its brand and its shareholders.

“Pfizer’s actions cement the pharmaceutical industry’s opposition to the misuse of medicines. Over twenty-five global pharmaceutical companies have taken action to prevent the misuse of their medicines in executions; with Pfizer’s announcement, this will mean that all FDA-approved manufacturers of all execution drugs have spoken out against the misuse of medicines in lethal injections and taken steps to prevent it.

“Instead of passing secrecy laws intended to undermine the safeguards put in place by these companies, executing states should respect the legitimate commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry and agree to stop misusing their medicines in lethal injection executions.”

Source: Reprieve, May 13, 2016

Pfizer Tightens Controls to Block Use of Its Drugs in Executions

Pfizer Inc. on Friday updated controls to its drug-distribution channels to restrict the use of its products in lethal-injection executions, the latest blow to the nation’s beleaguered death-penalty system.

The company’s new controls tighten an already diminishing spigot of drugs states have relied on to execute inmates, and send a clear message that the pharmaceutical giant objects to is products being used in executions.

The policy, posted on Pfizer’s website Friday, updates existing policies by beefing up controls on wholesalers and distributors and establishing a surveillance and monitoring system to ensure compliance. The move comes months after Pfizer’s 2015 takeover of Hospira Inc., which added several drugs used in lethal injections to the company’s portfolio.

In recent years, makers of drugs commonly used in executions have cut back their availability after death-penalty opponents and others highlighted the drugs’ role in executions. The decreasing availability of the drugs has contributed to the yearslong decline of the use of the death penalty.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization largely opposed to capital punishment, said Pfizer’s move was both a symbolic and practical act against lethal injection. While drug companies have for years publicly objected to the use of their products in executions, Mr. Dunham said state correctional facilities had still been able to obtain them from distributors.

In response to restrictions put on two drugs historically used in lethal injections—thiopental and pentobarbital—states have moved to less tested drugs, like the sedative midazolam, which have rendered uneven results—for example, executions that take far longer than expected. Others, like Texas, have turned to third parties, called compounding pharmacies, to get the previously used drugs.

Partly to shield their suppliers from public protest, states have become more secretive about how and where they get the lethal chemicals. So far, legal challenges to states’ secrecy policies have generally failed. But a state judge in Austin ordered Texas in December to reveal the identity of its supplier. The names are unlikely to be disclosed unless and until the ruling is upheld on appeal.

Pfizer has long had a policy blocking use of its drugs for use in lethal injections but updated the policy to extend that policy to drugs made by Hospira. Hospira itself has also for years banned the use of its drugs for lethal injections, but its products may well still be used in executions.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, said Pfizer’s new controls weren’t a death blow to lethal injection, but would have a significant impact.

“You have this huge company saying we’re not going to allow this,” she said. “It’s a pragmatic blow, but it’s also symbolically, it’s the company turning up their nose to the Supreme Court."

Death penalty advocate Kent S. Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the move will “have some effect,” but wouldn’t end lethal-injection. Some states that are still effectively using lethal injection are acquiring their drugs from compounding pharmacies, which are outside the Pfizer’s distribution chain, said Mr. Scheidegger.

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Source: The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2016

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