Pfizer Ban: The Ban On Lethal Drug Sales Has Complicated Executions For At Least 20 States In The U.S.

Reuters has reported that more than 20 states in the U.S. are scrambling to carry out lethal injections after Pfizer’s ban on sales of its chemicals. The move the giant pharmaceutical, Pfizer, made last week resulted in cutting down the United States’ last big source of drugs used for execution. This has only added to the fact that a number of states were already struggling to produce the chemicals needed to create a lethal injection.

Florida and Oklahoma are two of the states impacted by Pfizer’s ban on sales of its chemicals, as they have been the leading states in terms of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 by the United States Supreme Court. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming are other states struggling with drug scarcity.

According to Indiana Public Media, lethal injection is currently the only execution method legally allowed to be used in the state according to state law. Indiana, and any other states limited to execution methods legal under state law, will struggle to perform executions as the result of the Pfizer ban. The only solution states such as Indiana have to this problem is to find an alternative company to produce lethal injection chemicals or to bring back other execution methods such as the electric chair.

The state of Ohio, for example, has executed 53 inmates since the death penalty was reinstated according to Reuters. Last year, the decision was made to delay all executions until the year 2017 as the state struggled to collect the necessary drugs to perform the execution. With the recent Pfizer ban, chances are pretty good the state of Ohio will need to further delay executions as they search for an alternative.

It was about five years ago that most European drug makers started banning the sales of their products if they were being used for executions due to ethical reasons. This caused many states to turn to compounding pharmacies with less regulations to mix the chemicals. This, in turn, resulted in a string of lawsuits as any middleman who violates the ban could face sanctions.

“Now a distributor who violates Pfizer’s policies can face contractual liability and termination of its ability to sell any of Pfizer’s medicines.”

The above is a statement Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, made about the issue.

What Exactly Has Been Banned?

There are three chemicals included in the Pfizer ban: the sedative midazolam, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.

  • Sedative Midazolam: A sedative used to leave the inmate unconscious.
  • Pancuronium Bromide: A paralytic agent which halts the inmate’s breathing.
  • Potassium Chloride: A chemical used to cause cardiac arrest.

In the United States, there are 31 states which have a death penalty. Only six, however, have a single drug protocol in place. These states includes Missouri, George, and Texas.

Pentobarbital is the name of the single drug used most often for executions, and it is not made by Pfizer.

Texas is among the states which likely will not be impacted by the Pfizer ban as the state has executed 537 inmates since 1976 and should have no trouble obtaining the needed chemicals.

“It’s not anticipated that Pfizer’s decision will have an impact on the agency’s current ability to carry out executions.”

Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, does not believe Texas will be impacted by the Pfizer ban with the above statement.

A number of states, including Texas, have laws in place banning the release of the name of compounding pharmacies used to make execution chemicals. These laws are claimed to be a security measure. Dale Baich, an attorney for a number of inmates on death row, however, says otherwise.

“The purpose of the secrecy is to keep companies in the dark about the misuse of their products.”

Some states have also made an attempt to look overseas for the chemicals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration impounded a shipment just last year containing an execution drug called sodium thiopental that Arizona and Texas had ordered from India. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the import of this drug was banned as it was not legal for use in the United States.

The number of executions in the United States has been on the decline long before Pfizer and other companies started banning the use of their chemicals for executions. In 2015, for example, there were only 28 executions in the United States. This is the least number of executions performed in the United States in two decades. This number can be compared to the 98 executions in 1999 when executions were at their peak in the United States.

How do you feel about the Pfizer ban and the stall in executions? Should states be considering an alternative to lethal injections?

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