Policy, Pharma

Nebraska legislator urges Pfizer to sue state in bid to stop execution

Ernie Chambers cites case of Alvogen suing Nevada as grounds for lawsuit to stop use of its products in lethal injection.

A state legislator in Nebraska is urging Pfizer to sue the state’s Department of Corrections in order to prevent its drugs from being used to execute a convicted murderer.

In a letter Friday to Robert Jones, the New York-based drugmaker’s vice president for government relations, Sen. Ernie Chambers sought to head off the execution by lethal injection of Carey Dean Moore, scheduled to take place on Aug. 14, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Moore was convicted of killing two taxi drivers in Omaha in 1979.

The newspaper reported that the execution would be the first in the country to use a combination of four drugs, three of which Pfizer manufactures, namely the muscle relaxant diazepam, the opioid fentanyl citrate and potassium chloride, used to stop the heart. Novartis generics subsidiary Sandoz makes the fourth drug, cisatracurium besylate, which is also a muscle relaxant, though Sandoz has also objected to the use of its product in the execution.

Pfizer has stated in a policy paper that it “strongly objects” to the use of its drugs for lethal injections and moved to prevent such use of its products in May 2016. In an October 2017 letter from Jones to Nebraska Department of Corrections Director Scott Frakes, Pfizer demanded that the department return any drugs from it or from generics subsidiary Hospira that it intends “to misuse in a lethal injection procedure.” However, the request was denied, the Associated Press reported.

“Our records do not show any sales of any restricted products to the Nebraska Department of Corrections,” a Pfizer spokesman told MedCity News. “We are again asking the Nebraska DOC to return any Pfizer restricted product.”

The policy paper lists 13 drugs – including the aforementioned three – as being sold to wholesalers, distributors and direct purchasers on the condition that they will not be resold to prisons for lethal injections.

Still, Chambers called it “puzzling” that Pfizer had not sued the state to stop the use of its drugs to execute Moore. He cited a lawsuit filed against Nevada by another company, Alvogen, that earlier this month blocked the execution of convicted murderer Scott Raymond Dozier. The Pine Brook, New Jersey-based private company objected to the use of a sedative it manufactures, midozalam, in Dozier’s execution, effectively preventing the execution from taking place. Pfizer also makes midozalam, which is among the restricted-distribution drugs listed in its policy paper.

“Does Pfizer’s desire to protect its integrity, good name and public image rise to the level of Alvogen’s?” Chambers asked rhetorically in his letter. Chambers, an independent, represents the 11th district of Nebraska’s unicameral legislature. A strong opponent of the death penalty, Chambers helped pass a 2015 bill in the legislature that abolished it in Nebraska and overrode the governor’s veto, but a referendum the next year restored it.

Photo: tomloel, Getty Images