On April 9, 2020, a group of prominent medical practitioners and health experts sent a letter to corrections departments warning that many of the sedatives and paralytics used in executions are in short supply and needed by hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.
The letter calls for state departments of corrections to release these medicines to hospitals, noting that some states have stockpiled enough drugs to treat potentially hundreds of COVID-19 patients.
The letter notes that many of the medicines used in executions were originally developed to connect patients to life-saving ventilators and lessen the discomfort of intubation. These medicines include midazolam, vecuronium bromide, rocuronium bromide, fentanyl, etomidate, and cisatracurium besylate. Many of these medicines are on shortage according to the American Society of Health‐System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In the coronavirus pandemic, shortages of these key medicines are putting the lives of patients at risk.
According to research by the nine signatories, states have stockpiled enough drugs to treat over one hundred COVID-19 patients or thousands of patients in other ICU settings. When combined with inventory from other states that keep their drug supplies secret, these medicines could be used to save the lives of potentially hundreds of patients suffering from COVID‐19.
The letter highlights warnings made by the pharmaceutical industry that the medicines used in executions were never intended to cause harm, and that their misuse in executions can result in drug shortages.
“For years, pharmaceutical companies and health experts have warned that states’ pursuit of execution drugs create public health risks . . . In this time of crisis, these risks have never been more acute, and our health system has never more desperately needed the medicines you currently hold for use in executions. Every last vial of medicine could mean the difference between life and death.”