COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Danish company is changing its distribution system to stop one of its drugs from being used to execute prisoners in the United States.
Ulf Wiinberg, the chief executive of Lundbeck A/S, said Friday that his company will demand that U.S. distributors sign an agreement stating they will not make pentobarbital — a sedative with a range of medical uses — available for prisons using it for lethal injections.
"Lundbeck will have to approve each order and everyone buying the product must sign a paper stating they will not sell it on to prisons," Wiinberg said.
He said U.S. prisons have been able to buy the drug indirectly through stores and wholesalers.
"We are confident that our new distribution program will play a substantial role in restricting prisons' access," he said, promising to take action against any distributor selling the drug to a prison.
Pentobarbital, which is produced by Lundbeck's plant in Kansas, is used in the treatment of epileptic seizures, but has also become a key element in U.S. executions.
Reprieve, the London-based rights group that sought the ban, welcomed the news.
"Lundbeck has proven that manufacturers can control the use and distribution of their drugs: any company manufacturing execution drugs who refuses to take such steps will be directly complicit in executions," Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said in a statement. "Other pharmaceutical companies should now follow Lundbeck's example."
Lundbeck — the only company making the drug — found itself in an awkward situation in January as death penalty states in the United States started switching to pentobarbital for lethal injections to replace another chemical that's no longer readily available. The Copenhagen-based firm had complained about its product being misused and written letters to prison authorities and governors in American states asking them not to use it.
Wiinberg said the company discussed the issue with its shareholders and human rights organizations.
"I have not experienced any pressure from our shareholders," he said. "My understanding is that they have felt that we did the right thing."