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Indian Firm to Restrict Sale of 'Lethal Injection' Drug to US

  • Kurt Achin

Florida's lethal injection gurney is shown in an undated photo taken in the redesigned death chamber that will accommodate either the electric chair or the gurney for lethal injections at Florida State Prison (file photo)

Florida's lethal injection gurney is shown in an undated photo taken in the redesigned death chamber that will accommodate either the electric chair or the gurney for lethal injections at Florida State Prison (file photo)

A small Indian drug company says it will restrict sales of an anesthetic it exports, in order to prevent the drug from being used in the United States to execute prisoners sentenced to death.

Kayem Pharma, a drug company based in the Indian business hub, Mumbai, said it will stop selling the drug sodium thiopental to U.S. prison facilities that use it to carry out lethal injections.

Navneet Verma, Kayem's managing director, said, "My drug is for the common good. Not solely for the purpose of lethal injections."

Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic that once was commonly used in the United States. It is in short supply there, because most hospitals have moved on to more modern drugs, and U.S. companies have stopped producing it.

However, it is still part of a three-drug combination formula used to put convicted criminals to death. That means U.S. states that lethally inject death row prisoners, like South Dakota and Nebraska, have turned to overseas companies like Kayem to obtain their supply.

In a statement on Kayem's website, the company says it wants to distance itself from selling drugs for execution in order to better respect the "ethos of Hinduism."

Verma said his company will still sell sodium thiopental to U.S. clients, but will seek assurances, either written or verbal, that the product is not being used for execution. "I will be requesting my buyers to declare that they will not be using for the lethal purposes."

Verma acknowledges his decision also was influenced by pressure from the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, which opposes the death penalty worldwide.

Sophie Walker is a legal investigator for Reprieve. "I, for one, am first to congratulate him for this decision. The export of drugs for the purposes of executions, when this drug should be used to help patients, is an unethical practice, and it's something Reprieve is taking a stand against."

Walker said her group uses a combination of negotiation, education, and pressure to convince global drug companies not to provide the serums used in lethal injection. She said limiting supply can buy death row inmates more time to appeal their sentences.

Walker is visiting India this week, in part to lobby the Indian government for tighter enforcement policies to prevent the export of drugs used in execution.

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