BBC News reports, "UK-based firm stops selling phenobarbital drug to Arkansas."
A UK-based pharmaceutical company has stopped selling a drug to Arkansas because the US state planned to use it to execute prisoners on death row.
Drug company Hikma, based in London, said phenobarbital is prescribed to prevent convulsions.
A spokesman said the drug is widely used and that the company did not condone its use on death row.
It acted to withdraw the drug on information from the legal rights charity Reprieve.
A spokesman said its subsidiary West-Ward Pharmaceuticals had not sold phenobarbital to the Arkansas Department of Correction (DoC) since mid-April when they were made aware it could be used for capital punishment.
"British maker of death penalty drugs adds new restrictions for US buyers," is by Ed Pilkington for the Guardian.
Ironically, Arkansas turned to the Hikma subsidiary, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals in Memphis, Tennessee, as a possible way of skirting the drug boycott. Since 2011 execution drugs have been in increasingly short supply after the European commission banned exports of listed chemicals to all US corrections departments.
With other options closed down, Arkansas decided to pioneer a new death penalty protocol untested by any other state: the use of phenobarbital, a barbiturate widely used medically as an anticonvulsant. This year the state adopted a new protocol that involves executing prisoners by injecting them with a relaxant, Lorazepam, followed by 12 grams of phenobarbital hydrochloride.
In April, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals shipped two batches of Phenobarbital to Arkansas department of corrections in Pine Bluff amounting to a total of almost 100 grams of the chemical – sufficient to kill eight prisoners. A spokesman for Hikma said the order had been made as part of the regular automated request for drugs for the general prison hospital services and given that phenobarbital has never been used in executions before in the US, it raised no red flags with the company.
Hikma added that the quantity of the drug was small, though a spokeswoman for the Arkansas department of corrections said it was "enough to perform several executions".
Maya Foa, a death penalty expert with Reprieve, welcomed Hikma's pledge to cut off the supply route to US corrections departments in capital punishment states. "This shows that the pharmaceutical industry is not willing to have its products used in executions. The industry now understands that it can stop its drugs reaching death chambers."
Arkansas confirmed to the Guardian that it had been contacted by West-Ward and told that it was closing the account. That presents the state with a long-term problem, but in the short term it still has plenty of phenobarbital with a shelf life that will last until October 2015.