Doctors: Execution drugs could help COVID-19 patients

MGN Online

A group of medical professionals is asking death penalty states for medications used both for lethal injections and to help coronavirus patients who are on ventilators.

Posted: Apr 21, 2020 3:14 PM

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.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 309223

Reported Deaths: 7153
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21005250
Hinds19989411
Harrison17590303
Rankin13388277
Jackson13169243
Madison9965212
Lee9900170
Jones8319161
Forrest7554149
Lauderdale7232237
Lowndes6306144
Lamar614685
Lafayette6081118
Washington5296133
Bolivar4778130
Oktibbeha458097
Panola4461103
Pearl River4447142
Warren4310119
Marshall4302103
Pontotoc417672
Monroe4063132
Union405175
Neshoba4009176
Lincoln3892109
Hancock373785
Leflore3471124
Sunflower332090
Tate325984
Pike3226105
Scott311973
Yazoo305369
Alcorn301566
Itawamba297977
Copiah294365
Coahoma290779
Simpson290486
Tippah285368
Prentiss276659
Marion266479
Leake262473
Wayne261541
Grenada257385
Covington255380
Adams247082
Newton246161
George238947
Winston226181
Tishomingo222867
Jasper220248
Attala213673
Chickasaw205857
Holmes187272
Clay183354
Stone179733
Clarke178177
Tallahatchie176240
Calhoun165632
Yalobusha160236
Smith159734
Walthall131143
Greene129633
Lawrence126823
Noxubee126634
Montgomery125842
Perry125238
Amite121041
Carroll121026
Webster113932
Jefferson Davis105932
Tunica103425
Claiborne101430
Benton97525
Kemper95728
Humphreys94732
Franklin83123
Quitman78916
Choctaw74417
Wilkinson65329
Jefferson64928
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 522512

Reported Deaths: 10790
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson755371494
Mobile39129799
Madison34124500
Tuscaloosa25408444
Montgomery24059573
Shelby23225242
Baldwin20730302
Lee15638166
Calhoun14358311
Morgan14171273
Etowah13705348
Marshall12012220
Houston10416279
Elmore10024203
Limestone9862148
Cullman9509191
St. Clair9486236
Lauderdale9280233
DeKalb8762183
Talladega8127173
Walker7151276
Autauga6763106
Jackson6762110
Blount6532133
Colbert6236132
Coffee5436113
Dale4781111
Russell431239
Franklin421382
Chilton4130110
Covington4069115
Tallapoosa3922148
Escambia390374
Dallas3528150
Chambers3519122
Clarke347360
Marion3076100
Pike306676
Lawrence296395
Winston273272
Bibb256761
Marengo248561
Geneva246475
Pickens233259
Barbour227155
Hale218675
Butler213268
Fayette209660
Henry188444
Cherokee182744
Randolph177841
Monroe173140
Washington165538
Macon156548
Clay150255
Crenshaw149557
Cleburne147041
Lamar140034
Lowndes137353
Wilcox124727
Bullock122040
Conecuh109728
Perry107726
Sumter103332
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
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