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EU Bans Export of Lethal Injection Drugs to US

The human rights-based move leaves death penalty states struggling to find an alternative supply.

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By Luke Walker

12/13/11

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A European Union ban on exporting lethal injection drugs to the US kicks in this week, leaving prisons without access to a vital ingredient of state executions. After the American pharmaceutical company Hospira ended manufacturing of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental earlier this year, at least ten states scrambled to find an alternative supply. Within weeks, several prisons across the country began importing similar barbiturates illegally from pharmaceutical companies in Europe, without permission from either the FDA or the DEA, using third party brokers to avoid suspicion. In many cases the DEA seized the drugs, but no criminal charges were brought against states or prison officials. Most US prisons have since obtained legal permits to import the essential barbiturate component of the three-drug cocktail used to kill death row inmates. The Danish and Swiss manufacturers of pentobarbital—Lundbeck, and Naari respectively—have previously protested the use of their drugs for US executions. Danish company Lundbeck published its position on its website, promising to "deny distribution of the product to prisons in US states currently active in carrying out the death penalty by lethal injection." Now EU law will do the same.

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