Medicine and the Law

The state of Utah has recently reinstated the practice of death by firing squad when lethal injection drugs are not available. The state of Texas said this month that it has only enough of the medicines for two more executions, and is scrambling to find suppliers.

Now, in a move that could worsen the drug shortages, the American Pharmacists Association has officially discouraged its members from providing drugs used for lethal injections. A policy adapted this week at its annual meeting says providing such drugs runs contrary to the role of pharmacists as health care providers.

While the policy lacks the legal authority to bar its more than 62-thousand members from providing the drugs to penal institutions, the group’s policies set pharmacist’s ethical standards. Pharmacists now join physicians in having ethics codes that restrict members from participating in lethal injections.

However, compounding pharmacies, which make drugs for individual clients, have in the recent past become involved in providing drugs to prisons for the lethal cocktails. Prison officials have turned to the compounding pharmacies because pharmaceutical manufacturers, after providing the execution drugs for decades, have bent to the pressure of anti-death penalty groups.

Texas has turned to  compounding pharmacies to provide the drugs that big pharma now will not provide. The compounded drugs are also becoming hard to get because pharmacists are afraid of being targeted for harassment.

The state of Ohio has said it will begin using compounded versions of execution drugs, but apparently doesn’t currently have supplies of the drugs. Tennessee has approved the use of the electric chair, also known as Yellow Mama, if it cannot obtain the drugs.

Oklahoma is considering legislation that would make it the first state to allow the use of nitrogen gas to carry out death penalty executions.

What do you think about the decision made by the American Pharmacists Association? If you are a pharmacist, how will this announcement affect your decisions in the future?

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