This Pharma Giant Doesn't Want Its Drug Used in Death Penalty Executions

Published: Aug 24, 2017

This Pharma Doesn't Want Its Drug Used in Death Penalty Executions
August 23, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

NEW YORK -- Janssen Pharmaceutical, a division of health care giant Johnson & Johnson, is entering the debate on the death penalty. The company is opposing the use of one of its drugs in the looming execution of a Florida death row inmate.

Earlier this year, the state of Florida amended its protocols surrounding lethal injection to allow the inclusion of Janssen’s etomidate anesthetic agent. State leaders did this as its supplies of midazolam, a sedative used in executions, were exhausted, The Street reported. Midazolam was one of two drugs at the center of lawsuits filed against the state of Arkansas by drugmakers over their use in executions earlier this year. This will be the first time Janssen’s drug will be used as part of an execution, the Washington Post reported, citing the Death Penalty Information Center.

Florida intends to use Janssen’s drug as part of a lethal cocktail in the execution of Mark Asay, who was convicted of two murders committed in 1987, the Post said.

Janssen is opposed to the use of etomidate, which was first developed in the 1960s, in capital punishment. “Janssen discovers and develops medical innovations to save and enhance lives. We do not support the use of our medicines for indications that have not been approved by regulatory authorities,” Greg Panico, a spokesman for Janssen said in a statement to the Post. “We do not condone the use of our medicines in lethal injections for capital punishment.”

While Janssen and J&J may oppose the use of its drug in executions, the Post noted that it’s a largely symbolic opposition. Etomidate is not sold in the United States by J&J and the company divested itself of the product last year. Etomidate is off-patent and made by multiple generic manufacturers, the Post added. It is unknown which company sold the drug to the state of Florida. The Street noted that there are at least eight different manufacturers of generic etomidate.

Janssen is the latest pharma company to denounce the use of a drug it developed in capital punishment. Pfizer has objected to the use of its drug, vecuronium bromide, in executions. In April, two European pharmaceutical companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. , objected to their drugs being used in multiple executions the state of Arkansas conducted before drug supplies ran out. The companies said the use of their drugs in executions “runs counter to the manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives,” according to a legal filing. Fresenius Kabi manufactures potassium chloride, which is used to stop the heart. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals is a maker of the sedative midazolam.

In May, BioSpace reported that 24 drugmakers publicly opposed the use of their products in lethal injections. Pfizer has developed policies for seven of its drugs used in the death penalty in order to make it more difficult for states to obtain the drugs for executions. The seven Pfizer drugs are pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide.

“Pfizer makes its products solely to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. We strongly object to the use of any of our products in the lethal injection process for capital punishment,” Pfizer said in a statement.

Back to news