Pharmacists Group Urges Members Not to Sell States Execution Drugs

It could soon get even harder for Texas to replenish its ever dwindling supply of execution drugs.

On Monday the American Pharmacists Association adopted a policy discouraging members from selling death-penalty states drugs for use in lethal injections. Here's the language of the new policy the APhA just voted to adopt: "The American Pharmacists Association discourages pharmacist participation in executions on the basis that such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care."

Texas, like virtually every other death-penalty state, continues to face recurring shortages of lethal injection drugs, in large part due to drug manufacturers that years ago stopped selling states drugs for use in executions. Most states have turned to so-called compounding pharmacies, which aren't regulated by the FDA -- a move that's raised a whole other host of issues, particularly for appellate attorneys representing death-row inmates.

It's still up in the air what information the public is or isn't entitled to when it comes to the death penalty here in Texas. Initially, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott bucked the national trend toward secrecy and ruled that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice couldn't keep the source of the state's execution drugs a secret. But Abbott did a complete about-face on the issue right around the time it became abundantly clear that compounding pharmacies willing to sell the state execution drugs in secret wouldn't do so in public. When a Woodlands compounding pharmacy was outted as the state's source for death drugs a couple of years ago, the owner protested, claiming state prison officials had offered him privacy assurances, and demanded TDCJ return the drugs.

Public pressure notwithstanding, now there's pressure from within the profession that might keep pharmacists from getting in on the execution-drug game. While the association can't legally bar members from selling states execution drugs, the stance against pharmacists providing lethal-injection drugs to states is now ensconced in the group's code of ethics.

APhA President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan said in a statement:

"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."

It remains to be seen exactly how or if the move by the APha impacts state access to execution drugs. The American Medical Association already has a policy on the books barring doctors from participating in executions on ethical grounds, yet death-penalty states have still somehow managed to hire doctors to oversee their lethal injection protocols (likely because most, if not all states effectively mask their executioners by withholding the names of anyone involved in the process). Take, for instance, this Missouri doctor who, despite having fielded multiple malpractice suits and being banned by two hospitals, oversaw executions in that state for years before a judge barred him from participating in executions.

TDCJ officials recently announced they've acquired enough pentobarbital - Texas's execution drug of choice - to execute all four prisoners scheduled for lethal injection in April.

Naturally, the state hasn't revealed the origin of those drugs.

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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas