The embroilment in a death penalty row of an Indian supplier of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in the lethal injection cocktail in the United States, deepened recently when one death row inmate’s lawyers questioned the firm’s “competence and credibility” and leaked emails between officials of the firm revealed internal conflicts.
The exports of thiopental to the U.S. by Kayem Pharma, the Mumbai-based supplier of the unconsciousness-inducing barbiturate, came under fire for a second time after a motion filed by Nebraska prison detainee Carey Dean Moore asserted that he was about to be executed with thiopental from a manufacturer that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration had not approved.
Earlier this year media attention focused on Kayem when a United Kingdom-based anti-death penalty group, Reprieve, sought to highlight the fact that despite not being approved by U.S. regulators it had exported 500 one-gram vials of thiopental to the Nebraska Department of Corrections, enough to kill 166 men. Under intense pressure the firm then stated publicly that it would stop exporting thiopental to the U.S. immediately.
However given that the main supplier of thiopental in the U.S., a firm called Hospira, announced last year that it was ceasing production due to raw materials issues, a slew of correctional facilities in the U.S. has continued to seek out alternative suppliers of the drug or switch to pentobarbital, a veterinary euthanasia barbiturate used to put down dogs.
Like Kayem Pharma, Lundbeck Company of Denmark has found itself caught up in the legal and regulatory tussles over the use of untested drugs to kill prisoners. The firm, which has since 2010 supplied pentobarbital to U.S. correctional facilities, has faced challenges at home. A major Danish pension fund, Unipension, sold 40 million Danish Kroner (nearly U.S. $8 million) worth of shares in the pharmaceutical company, as a result of concerns regarding pentobarbital use in U.S. executions.
Neither this controversy nor the opinion of experts like David Waisel of Harvard Medical School, who says “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,” has stopped the states of Alabama and Arizona from executing two men using pentobarbital.
Commenting on Lundbeck's role in these executions, Reprieve Investigator Maya Foa said: “Aside from moral concerns, this is damaging [Lundbeck’s] reputation as a business – one investor recently sold their shares and others are asking questions.” She added that Lundbeck should exit the execution drug market immediately if it wanted to salvage its reputation.