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2 drug makers seek to block Ark. from using products in executions

April 15, 2017

Two pharmaceutical companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp., are seeking to prevent the state of Arkansas from using their drugs in executions.

The two European companies filed friend of the court briefs that are part of a lawsuit brought by seven inmates aimed at halting the plan to execute them by the end of the month. The companies said the use of their drugs in executions “runs counter to the manufacturers’ mission to save and enhance patients’ lives,” according to the legal filing as reported by The Associated Press.

When the medicines could be used to protect life, they are instead being used to end it,” the companies said in the legal documents.

Fresenius Kabi manufactures potassium chloride, which is used to stop the heart. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals is a maker of the sedative midazolam, which has had a troubled history in lethal injections, Slate reported. The two drugs are part of a three-drug cocktail used by the state in capital punishment.

The seven inmates facing execution have challenged the state’s use of midazolam due to its use in previous botched executions, Slate said. Several U.S. states that practice lethal injection for capital punishment have abandoned the use of midazolam due to problems when the drug was not effective in sedating prisoners. A judge in Ohio has blocked the state from using midazolam, the Guardian reported.

Arkansas has planned the frenzied execution pace due to the expiration date for its supply of midazolam. The drug is set to expire at the end of April, AP said. Arkansas plans to execute all seven men over an 11-day stretch.

The two European companies have policies in place that are supposed to prevent their products from being used in executions, the Guardian reported. However, attorneys said it appears those controls were “bypassed.” Neither company has records showing a sale to that state’s prison system. Attorneys for the companies speculated that Arkansas acquired West-Ward Pharmaceuticals’ midazolam and Fresenius Kabi’s potassium chloride from third party sellers in violation of the companies’ contracted terms. Arkansas has declined to confirm how it acquired the drugs, according to reports.

Acquiring the drugs from a third party can be problematic, the attorneys said.

“Pharmaceuticals obtained in this manner are at risk of adulteration or chemical change due to improper handling such as failure to maintain proper temperature levels during storage and transport,” Mat Kuhn, a Fresenius spokesman told the AP.

Arkansas uses three different drugs in its lethal injection regimen. In addition to the two European-drugs, a third drug has been identified by the AP as vecuronium bromide, which is made by Pfizer (PFE). That company also has objected to the use of its drugs in capital punishment. AP reported that Arkansas acquired vecuronium bromide from a distributor without the knowledge of Pfizer. The pharma giant has asked Arkansas to return the drugs two times.

A ruling on the inmates’ lawsuit is expected today. The first of the executions is scheduled for next week.

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