Supreme Court OKs use of controversial drug for US executions
- The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that use of midazolam (a pre-surgery benzodiazepine drug intended to induce sleepiness) in U.S. executions does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment and is legal under the Constitution. The ruling was 5-4, with the court's five more conservative justices united against the more liberal wing.
- Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the court, in which he said that prisoner plaintiffs failed to prove midazolam was cruel and unusual when compared to known and available alternatives, according to SCOTUSblog.
- The prisoners had argued that other drugs that have less harmful effects and do not induce pain during executions (like midazolam has occassionally shown to do) could have been used by the state, but as the court pointed out, those drugs are largely unavailable. The justices also rejected plaintiffs' argument that they shouldn't have to plead an alternative drug for use in executions.
The issue of drugs being used for the death penalty has been fairly controversial for biopharma.
There have been shortages of traditional death penalty drugs such as pentobarbital, sodium thiopental, and rocuronium bromide—some of these shortages due to global pharma companies refusing to manufacture or sell such drugs for death penalty purposes, forcing prisons to rely on alternatives such as midazolam.
But critics say that the latter medication can, and has, caused severe panic attacks, seizures, and hallucinations during executions. Some companies, such as the Medicines Company, have discontinued production of midazolam injections. But firms like Akorn, Sagent, West-Ward, and Wockhardt still manufacture and sell the drug, although there have been some shortages.
It will be interesting to see how pharma companies react to the ruling, and whether they will be eager to keep marketing the drug for execution purposes.