Unwitting execution company promises to investigate

A Danish drug manufacturer, which has unwittingly had its product used in executions on America’s death-row, has vowed to discuss ways to ensure the medication is only exported to hospitals.

The latest announcement is a U-turn for the Lundbeck firm, which claimed in an interview with the Copenhagen Post in March that they were incapable of stopping the Nembutal epilepsy drug being used in lethal injections in US prisons.

“We have been looking into the problem and there’s nothing that we can do to control where the product ends up,” a representative from Lundbeck told the paper at the time. However, the company’s chief executive, Ulf Wiinberg, met with human rights organisation Reprieve last week to discuss how to prevent the drug ending up in the wrong hands.

“We have of course continued our efforts to solve this problem, on how to make the states stop this misuse of our medicine by writing and contacting the prisons in question,” said Lundbeck representative Mads Kronborg. “Reprieve has highlighted the possibilities in terms of restricting distribution by making it harder for prisons to get the drug while keeping a supply for hospitals to get the drugs to treat patients with severe epilepsy,” he added.

“We want to do this right so we are starting an investigation to see how we can restrict the distribution. But it must be noted that it will not necessarily be 100 percent certain to prevent the prisons getting hold of the drugs,” Kronborg concluded in the Copenhagen Post report.

The news that Nembutal was being misused by correctional facilities in seven US states broke in March, shortly after exports of sodium thiopental, the prisons’ first-choice drug, was stopped due to protests. To date, 13 prisoners have been issued with the anti-epilepsy drug via lethal injection, despite warnings from health experts that it may not be humane.

Human rights organisations and the media widely criticised Lundbeck’s handling of the case, with Danish pension fund Unipension also selling millions of kroner in company shares following the scandal.

“Our immediate assessment is that Lundbeck does not violate our guidelines. But we think their handling of the matter has been inappropriate,” said Unipension chief investor Niels Erik Petersen in a press release.

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