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US pharmacists discouraged from providing execution drugs

The American Pharmacists Association has adopted a policy discouraging members from providing death-penalty drugs

The American Pharmacists Association on Monday adopted a policy that discourages its members from providing death-penalty drugs.

The new guidelines could make it tough for death-penalty states, such as Texas, that have been looking at made-to-order execution drugs from compounding pharmacies as the answer to a nationwide shortage of execution drugs.

The policy states: “The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) discourages pharmacist participation in executions on the basis that such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care.”

The association's governing body approved the policy at a meeting in San Diego.

The move by the association, which has about 62,000 members, sets out ethical standards for the profession but has no authority to halt the activities of the main suppliers of drugs for executions — lightly regulated compounding pharmacies that can mix chemicals.

However, the association's policies set standards followed by pharmacists, just as the American Medical Association does for doctors.

“Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role on the patient health care team," said Thomas Menighan, the association's executive vice president and CEO. "This new policy aligns APhA with the execution policies of other major health care associations including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Board of Anesthesiology."

Prison departments have had to buy made-to-order execution drugs from compounding pharmacies in recent years because the pharmaceutical companies, many of them European, which once supplied the drugs from now refuse to sell them for use in lethal injections after coming under pressure from death penalty opponents.

The use and availability of drugs for executions has come under heightened scrutiny after lethal injections last year went awry in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio.

But now the compounded version is also difficult to come by, with most pharmacists reluctant to expose themselves to possible harassment by death-penalty opponents.

Texas' prison agency scrambled this month to find a supplier to replenish its inventory, then found a supply from a compounding pharmacy it won't identify. Also this month, an execution in Georgia was put off when prison authorities questioned the appearance of the pentobarbital they planned to use.

After a troubling use of a two-drug method last year, Ohio said it will use compounded versions of either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental in the future, though it doesn't have supplies of either drug and hasn't said how it will obtain them. All executions scheduled this year were pushed to 2016 to give the state more time to find the drugs.

Others states are turning to alternative methods.

Tennessee has approved the use of the electric chair if lethal-injection drugs aren't available, while Utah has reinstated the firing squad as a backup method if it can't obtain the drugs. Oklahoma is considering legislation that would make it the first state to allow the use of nitrogen gas as an execution method.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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