The Slatest

Pfizer, Last FDA-Approved Source of Lethal Injection Drugs, Will No Longer Sell Them

Pfizer headquarters in New York in a photo from April.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

A major development in the ongoing farce that is the United States’ death penalty system: Pfizer, the last remaining Food and Drug Administration–approved source of lethal injection drugs, has decided to stop selling them for use in executions. States that want to continue to carry out lethal injections—and there will be some—will have to “go underground,” in the words of an expert quoted in the New York Times, acquiring the substances through straw purchasers, from overseas, and/or from “compounding pharmacies” that are not federally regulated. From the Times:

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More than 20 American and European drug companies have already adopted such restrictions, citing either moral or business reasons. Nonetheless, the decision from one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers is seen as a milestone … “Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the company said in Friday’s statement, and “strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”

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Pharmaceutical manufacturers have gradually stopped supplying drugs for executions as evidence has built that lethal injections can be unpredictable and inhumane. (In addition to pressure from activists and activist investors, the Times notes, they must also consider the threat of being sued for liability in the event of executions gone awry.) States’ efforts to circumvent manufacturers’ decisions have correspondingly become increasingly dark and surreal; last year, federal agents in Phoenix seized $27,000 worth of sodium thiopental that had been illegally imported by the Arizona department of corrections, while in 2014 the state of Louisiana obtained hydromorphone for an execution from a hospital without telling hospital officials what it was going to be used for. (If they had, a hospital official later said, the request would not have been filled.)

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