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Texas running out of execution drugs following Hagley doc's campaign
THE US state of Texas will run out of its sole drug used for the execution of death row prisoners next month following efforts by a campaigning Hagley doctor to halt the supply of a European sedative favoured for lethal injections.
Dr David Nicholl led a campaign which in 2011 forced multi-national company Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals, based in Denmark, to halt its distribution of pentobarbital to American states that execute prisoners by lethal injection.
Now, two years on, Texas is about to run out of its supply of the drug - a powerful anaesthetic which has become the most commonly used drug for lethal injections in the US.
Consultant neurologist, Dr Nicholl, from Woodlands Avenue, whose campaign efforts were recently featured in America’s Time magazine, said: “If Texas, which is the biggest death penalty state in the US by some measure, is running out of drugs - this is a sign how successful this campaign has been.”
Human rights activists from charities including Amnesty International and Reprieve worked hard to put pressure on Lundbeck, after fears were raised that the drug does not prevent unnecessary suffering, and Dr Nicholl said the 2011 victory was the first time a major pharmaceutical firm had taken direct action to ensure its drugs were used only to benefit patients - not to assist state-sponsored execution.
Dr Nicholl added: “No-one is more surprised than me, when Reprieve first approached me five years ago, my initial response was ‘this will never work...they will get the drugs from someone else like China’. I’m glad I could prove myself wrong.”
All executions carried out in the US in the past year have used pentobarbital (which is used by medics to treat epilepsy and by vets to euthanize animals) since supplies of sodium thiopental were cut off over objections to its use in executions.
Some states are now believed to be trying to obtain legal approval to switch to other sedatives such as propofol which was blamed for the death of superstar Michael Jackson.
Missouri changed its protocol last year to include propofol but it has not yet executed anyone with the drug.
However Dr Nicholl, who has been acting as an expert advisor to the European Commission, is working on steps to counter a switch to another drug.
He added: “As most drug companies have a European base, these measures are having far-reaching affects, even Vietnam is having difficulty getting drugs for executions.
“Many countries which support the death penalty like having medical involvement with executions as a pretence that it is somehow more humane.
“What this campaign has shown is that drug companies, like doctors, want to promote health - so the abuse of their products for executions is an affront to their corporate ethics.”
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark confirmed supplies of penobarbital will expire in September and added: "The agency is exploring all options including alternate sources of pentobarbital or an alternate drug for use in the lethal injection process.”
The state’s next execution is set for September 19.
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