March 30, 2015; NBC News

On Monday, the American Pharmacists Association, with 62,000 members across the country, voted that it would oppose any participation in the death penalty. In doing so, they joined the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, which made the same decision a week ago. Although neither vote binds members, they may dissuade pharmacists from selling drugs to prisons for use in executions, making it yet more difficult to access them.

As NPQ has written previously, in December 2011, the European Commission decided that it would no longer collaborate with the United States criminal justice system by selling it pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, the two drugs used to execute people on death row. The Commission placed restrictions on the export of the anesthetics, on the basis that they were being used for “capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” thus intensifying a shortage of these drugs. Over the past few years, protests have been waged against pharmacies that supplied drugs for executions, to the extent that some states have enacted laws to protect the anonymity of the pharmacies as well as other participants.

In a prepared statement, Thomas Menighan, the CEO of the APhA, said:

“Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role on the patient health care team. This new policy aligns APhA with the execution policies of other major health care associations including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Board of Anesthesiology.”

Corinna Lane of the Richmond School of Law says it makes sense that the associations would take this position because selling these drugs is not a major profit center for them but still carries a negative taint:

“The cost of these drugs has skyrocketed from something like $83 a vial to $1,200 to $1,500 a vial. But that’s still a drop in the bucket for a pharmacy’s total sales. And look at the downside—the negative publicity is tremendous.

“Executions are bad for business for compounding pharmacies for the same reason they were bad for business for the pharmaceutical companies.”

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports capital punishment, said he hopes that at least a few compounding pharmacies will buck the trade groups and continue to sell their products to prisons until a new source is found.

“It adds to the difficulty,” said Scheidegger. “It’s unfortunate that groups such as this would allow themselves to be dragged into a political dispute,” adding, “I expect states will eventually find a supply and this problem will go away.”—Ruth McCambridge