Docs To Hospira: Restrict Med Used For Executions

Docs To Hospira: Restrict Med Used For Executions

January 9th, 2012 // 1:55 pm @

The ongoing shortage of drugs used for prison executions has prompted more than two dozen prominent physicians from different countries to write to Hospira ceo Michael Ball, urging him to restrict the use of Pancuronium, which is one of three drugs that are used in a lethal injection cocktail administered by many states in the US that still employ the death penalty.

Their missive is hard to miss – The Lancet has just printed their admonishment and the move may ratched up pressure on Hospira to take action. The docs note that, last year, Hospira stopped making thiopental after facing penalties in Italy, one of the locations where the drug was made, and then determining that diversion could not be prevented from its use in capital punishment (read here).

As a result, the states that carry out the death penalty then switched to pentobarbital, which was made by Lundbeck. Although the docs note that Lundbeck was initially reluctant to take action, the drugmaker restricted distribution after an earlier letter was published in The Lancet. “Lundbeck’s response has truly been exemplary,” they write, but Hospira is again falling short.

“To date, Hospira has refused to comment on what, if any, action it will take to stop the abuse of this drug. Pancuronium is an extremely effective muscle relaxant when used in an appropriate hospital setting, but when used for executions, there is the very real possibility of causing extreme pain and suffering in a paralysed prisoner,” the docs write today in The Lancet.

“No responsible pharmaceutical company should have anything to do with executions. As your own code of business conduct states, Hospira has an ‘ethical compass’ to ‘accept the responsibility of being an ethical global citizen’ (look here). It is time for Hospira to live up to those fine words, without affecting patients’ care, by putting in place a restricted distribution system for pancuronium” (here is their letter).

In a response in The Lancet, Ball writes that Hospira does not support the use of its drug for lethal injections and maintains the drugmaker has written to the states to underscore that point. As to taking any specific steps, though, he is vague, because Hospira is concerned that restricted distribution may jeopardize legitimate patients.

“We continue to explore options around optimising distribution of all of our products,” he writes. “…Restricting distribution of our products must be carefully considered to avoid jeopardizing the health of patients – including ill inmates in state institutions with medical facilities – who are deserving of appropriate access to medical products” (read the letter here).

Hospira, by the way, is one of the central players in the ongoing shortage of prescription meds and its problems. Over the past two years, the FDA has found a host of manufacturing issues at various plants, prompting a warning letter and 483 inspection reports. One Wall Street analyst, Shibani Malhotra of RBC Capital Markets, has suggested a consent decree may be forthcoming (back story). In other words, Hospira can use all the revenue it can find.

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