Pentobarbital Supply Line Gets Tighter

The Danish manufacturer of sodium pentobarbital, the replacement drug of choice for lethal injection, has taken a further step in restricting how its product can be used post-sale.  Lundbeck recently made official and explicit its efforts to bar purchasers of its pentobarbital from reselling the drug to prisons.  From the company’s website:

“Prior to receiving pentobarbital, all purchasers must sign a form stating that the purchase of pentobarbital is for its own use and that it will not redistribute any purchased product without the express written authorization of Lundbeck. By signing the form, the purchaser agrees that the product will not be made available for purposes of capital punishment.

“Prior to the implementation of the drop ship program, pentobarbital was sold through a more standard process utilizing several distributors to fulfil orders based on whether customers held the appropriate federal and state licenses for ordering controlled substances.”

The company was obligated to take its time establishing the new system because sodium pentobarbital has legitimate, tested uses aside from facilitating lethal injection.  According to the company, over 700 U.S. hospitals have ordered pentobarbital from Lundbeck over the last 12 months.  A survey of U.S. physicians indicates that removing pentobarbital from the U.S. market (no other domestically-owned sources exist) would compromise treatment options for convulsive episodes And their procedural review will continue to look for additional means to restrict prison access to the drug.

Of course, many prisons already have supplies of the drug, and a Texas Department of Criminal Justice public relations official has stated Texas has enough supply for all executions that may be or are currently scheduled.  Virginia is scheduled to hold its first pentobarbital execution later this summer.  Once state supplies run dry, it is possible that a domestically-owned production company may get into the pentobarbital business.  But the drug represents all of one percent of Lundbeck’s global sales, so finding a company willing to put up with the hassle for modest returns may be difficult.