The tide turns: Another pharmaceutical firm bans execution drugs in US

By Jo-Anna K. Burnett

The largest pharmaceutical company in the UK banned the use of execution drugs in the US today, in a move which will make it even harder for US authorities to access they drugs they need for capital punishment.

The shortage of execution drugs is leading prisons to turn to propofol, an anaesthetic produced by pharmaceutical firm Teva which can kill in large doses.

"Teva wishes to be in the business of saving lives, not ending them in executions," Maya Foa, deputy director of the death penalty unit at human rights group Reprieve, said.

The Israeli-based pharmaceutical company stated it would only sell to healthcare facilities who have a medical need for propofol, such as acute care hospitals and clinics. It joins other firms like Lundbeck and Fresenius Kabi who have already taken measures to block their products in executions.

"Companies which don't wish to prop up the US death penalty system can take simple, practical steps to ensure their products are not used to kill prisoners," Foa said.

The move comes amid heightened efforts by international human rights groups to stem the tide of execution drugs making their way to the US from countries which legally opposed to the death penalty.

Last year, business secretary Vince Cable dramatically intervened to impose strict export controls on propofol, which states such as Missouri had been trying to source for executing prisoners.

Teva's decision comes amid signs of a change of heart in some US states. Earlier this month Maryland became the 18th state to ban executions.