Helping pharmaceutical companies stop their medicines being used to kill

In the last three years the landscape of capital punishment in the United States has changed dramatically, largely as a result of action by responsible pharmaceutical companies and their investors.

In this time, the vast majority of affected drug manufacturers have acted to prevent their products being sold to prisons for use in executions by lethal injection (the method used by all states which retain the death penalty).

Manufacturer action on execution drugs

Because the drugs used in these executions were not designed to cause deadly harm and are administered in experimental dosages they are frequently botched, with recent examples including the disastrous executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, and Joseph Wood in Arizona.

Since 2011 more than a dozen pharmaceutical manufacturers have judged this to be a perverse misuse of medicines, often after close consultation with informed and engaged investors. These companies have put controls in place to stop their drugs being sold to death rows, and these controls have been so effective that states are no longer able to purchase ‘traditional’ execution drugs. This has led a number to stop executing prisoners.

Huffington Post – Lethal injection drug shortage becomes more acute

Other states, however, are turning to experimental new execution drug ‘cocktails’, which rely on medicines produced by a handful of manufacturers which do not yet restrict sales of drugs to prisons for use in executions.

NPR: Lacking lethal injection drugs, states find untested backups

The risks for pharmaceutical companies

As the only manufacturers without distribution controls in place, pharmaceutical companies in this ever-smaller group risk becoming US states’ ‘go-to’ suppliers of execution drugs – leaving them exposed to a range of commercial risks. Association with executions can be extremely damaging to corporate reputations, as demonstrated by media coverage of botched lethal injections in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Companies can be served with costly litigation, as in the case of Hospira, which is currently being sued by the family of a prisoner executed in Ohio. And companies associated with capital punishment are viewed increasingly warily by mainstream funds as well as ethical portfolios. Drug maker Mylan takes $70 million hit in battle over lethal injection

What can pharmaceutical manufacturers do?

Today, manufacturers can benefit from the experience of several companies which have acted decisively to prevent their drugs being sold to prisons for use in executions.

These companies have designed and implemented restricted distribution systems which have proven to be effective at preventing abuse of medicines in executions. Such systems maintain access for legitimate medical users, while preventing drugs being sold to third parties which could sell them on to prisons for use in executions.

There are a number of models manufacturers can follow to achieve this outcome, which can be adapted to suit the drug in question’s current distribution model and intended patient population. For two examples of successful distribution systems, click the link below.How manufacturers can prevent the sale of their drugs for use in executions

Reprieve has advised a number of global pharmaceutical manufacturers on implementing such controls in a way that suits their business model and preserves patient access. Reprieve continues to provide such support for any company that requires it on a confidential basis.

Any company seeking discreet, confidential advice should contact Maya Foa at [email protected].


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