CORONAVIRUS

Doctors: Execution Drugs Could Help COVID-19 Patients

Apr 21, 2020, 9:06 AM | Updated: 9:09 am
Midazolam PHOTO: James Heilman, MD / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)...
Midazolam PHOTO: James Heilman, MD / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

HOUSTON (AP) — Secrecy surrounding executions could hinder efforts by a group of medical professionals who are asking the nation’s death penalty states for medications used in lethal injections so that they can go to coronavirus patients who are on ventilators, according to a death penalty expert and a doctor who’s behind the request.

In a letter sent this month to corrections departments, a group of seven pharmacists, public health experts, and intensive care unit doctors asked states with the death penalty to release any stockpiles they might have of execution drugs to health care facilities.

“Your stockpile could save the lives of hundreds of people; though this may be a small fraction of the total anticipated deaths, it is a central ethical directive that medicine values every life,” according to the letter.

But it’s unclear what drugs the states may have, as they have tended to release information about execution protocols and drug supplies only through open records requests or lawsuits. Only one state, Wyoming, responded directly to the letter, and it indicated it doesn’t have the drugs in question.

“I’m not trying to comment on the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment,” said Dr. Joel Zivot, one of the medical professionals who signed the letter. “I’m asking now as a bedside clinician caring for patients, please help me.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, it can cause severe illness, requiring them to be placed to ventilators to help them breathe.

Many medications used to sedate and immobilize people put on ventilators and to treat their pain are the same drugs that states use to put inmates to death. Demand for such drugs surged 73% in March.

Twenty-five states have the death penalty, while three have moratoriums on capital punishment.

While some states contacted by The Associated Press, including Alabama and Florida, didn’t respond to inquiries about the letter, others, including Arkansas, Texas and Utah, limited their comment to mainly saying they don’t have the medications in question. Tennessee wouldn’t confirm whether it has the drugs and indicated it has no plans to give any medications to a hospital. Oklahoma said it hadn’t received any requests for such medications from state hospitals.

States may be hesitant to turn over their drugs because they have had problems securing them as many pharmaceutical companies oppose their use in executions, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Since 2011, 13 states have enacted new statutes that conceal information about the execution process, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which takes no position on capital punishment but has criticized the way states carry out executions.

Drugs being requested include the sedative midazolam, the paralytic vecuronium bromide and the opioid fentanyl. They’re needed because putting a patient on a ventilator “with no drugs … would be torture,” said Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied medicine’s role in capital punishment.

The tense debate over the supply of execution drugs was highlighted in a 2018 lawsuit that several pharmaceutical companies filed against Nevada over accusations that it illegally obtained its inventory.

In a court brief, 15 states, including Florida, Oklahoma and Texas, called the lawsuit part of the “guerrilla warfare being waged by antideath-penalty activists and criminal defense attorneys to stop lawful executions.”

The lawsuit was dismissed this month after Nevada agreed to return its supplies to the companies, leaving the state without any drugs to carry out executions.

Pharmaceutical companies have long warned that states’ use of these medications for executions could result in shortages, Dunham said.

“Some of the responses over the past several years had been, ‘That’s chicken little saying the sky is falling,’” Dunham said. “But with COVID-19, the sky has fallen.”

___

Associated Press writers Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Coronavirus

2022 FLU SHOT...
Brenda Goodman, CNN

2022 Flu vaccine appears to be a very good match, CDC says

(CNN) — This year’s flu shot appears to be “a very good match” to the circulating strains, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a news briefing Monday. However, she noted that flu vaccinations are lagging behind the pace of previous years. Through the end of October, CDC data showed […]
1 day ago
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Sa...
LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer

Pfizer asks FDA to clear updated COVID shot for kids under 5

Pfizer is asking U.S. regulators to authorize its updated COVID-19 vaccine for children under age 5.
2 days ago
FILE: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon July 21,...
TARA COPP, Associated Press

Keep COVID military vaccine mandate, defense chief says

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making clear he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops.
4 days ago
flu shot tripledemic...
Matt Rascon

KSL+: The rise of respiratory viruses and COVID’s impact

It’s not even winter yet, and the CDC is warning that the country is experiencing a resurgence of respiratory viruses, which are taking a toll on hospitals and children.
5 days ago
RSV and flu...
Deidre McPhillips, CNN

Flu season intensifies, holiday gatherings could make it worse

Americans gathered for Thanksgiving last week amid a flu season that's worse than any has been in more than a decade, and experts continue to urge caution as multiple respiratory viruses circulate at high levels nationwide.
9 days ago
Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov....
Jessie Yeung and CNN's Beijing bureau

Rare protests are spreading across China. Here’s what you need to know

From Shanghai to Beijing, protests have erupted across China in a rare show of dissent against the ruling Communist Party.
9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Doctors: Execution Drugs Could Help COVID-19 Patients