Lundbeck, the Danish company embroiled in the controversy over the use of its products in lethal injections in the United States, has agreed to take action to restrict such use after facing intense pressure at home and abroad.
In a meeting this week with an anti-death-penalty campaign group, Reprieve, Lundbeck Chief Executive Officer Ulf Wiinberg reportedly said that the company had “reconsidered its position” and he acknowledged that “there are steps that the company could take to restrict the distribution of pentobarbital so that it is not delivered to execution chambers in the U.S., but still reaches legitimate users.”
Lundbeck is a U.S.-government-approved manufacturer of pentobarbital, a veterinary euthanasia barbiturate used to put down dogs. Pentobarbital has been used in 13 executions in the U.S. thus far, where it has replaced sodium thiopental, a more medically-tested and accepted barbiturate.
Over the course of the last one year, an increasing number of correctional facilities in the U.S. have turned to using pentobarbital – also known commercially as Nembutal – as the unconsciousness-inducing component of the lethal injection cocktail.
This trend accelerated following an announcement last summer by the main supplier of sodium thiopental in the U.S., a firm called Hospira, that it was ceasing production due to raw materials issues.
Reprieve officials said that while Lundbeck refused to make concrete assurances the company had agreed to hire “external consultants to assess the most effective strategies.”
The statement by Mr. Wiinberg came after months of intensive campaigns against Lundbeck, which also resulted in a major Danish pension fund, Unipension, selling 40 million Danish Kroner – nearly $8 million – worth of shares in the pharmaceutical company owing to concerns regarding pentobarbital use in U.S. executions.
After the meeting with Mr. Wiinberg, Reprieve said in a statement that the fierce criticism from press, politicians, non-governmental organisations and shareholders had led Lundbeck to promise that it would “be more transparent in their communications on this matter going forward... [and] that this time the full independent consultancy would be published.”
The campaign against Lundbeck’s involvement was further strengthened by the medical opinion of anaesthesia experts such as David Waisel of Harvard Medical School, who said, “The use of pentobarbital as an agent to induce anaesthesia has no clinical history... [and] puts the inmate at risk for serious undue pain and suffering.”
Following the meeting with Lundbeck, Reprieve representative Maya Foa said, "At last we are beginning to see some positive movement from Lundbeck on this issue. But too much time has already been lost - not to mention too many lives.”
Ms. Foa said that in addition to the 13 people killed to date using Lundbeck’s drugs, another seven were set to be executed by the end of June, which is the timeframe in which Lundbeck promised to reconsider the issue.