Alabama's plan to use a new drug to execute death-row prisoners is causing headaches for the pharmaceutical company that makes the chemical.
An anti-death penalty organization convinced a German financial firm to pull a $70 million investment in Mylan, the manufacturer of rocuronium bromide, a paralytic that is part of the state's untested three-drug lethal injection.
Jens Erhardt, managing director of asset manager DJE Kapital, told NBC News that his firm sold all its Mylan shares about a month ago because the drug giant would not guarantee its products won't wind up in executioners' syringes.
"We don't want to support this," Erhardt said. "If clients find out we have shares in companies that supply that drug, we have problems with our clients."
DJE was tipped off to the situation by Reprieve, a London-based activist group pushing Mylan to take steps to prevent rocuronium bromide from being used to kill inmates.
Under pressure, other pharmaceutical companies have barred their distributors from selling medicine to correction departments — causing shortages that have left death-penalty states scrambling for new sources and new drug combinations.
But Reprieve said Mylan, the Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company that is one of the biggest generic drug makers, has refused to go that far.
"There are simple and effective steps pharmaceutical companies can take to protect their medicines from being sold for use in lethal injections, and over a dozen companies — the vast majority of affected companies — have taken exactly these steps," said Maya Foa, head of Reprieve's death penalty team.
"To date, Mylan has not taken steps to protect its medicines from being sold for use in executions, and this is a matter of concern to responsible investors."
A spokeswoman for Mylan declined to say whether Alabama had obtained its product for upcoming executions and refused to answer questions beyond a written statement:
“Mylan is committed to setting new standards in healthcare and providing access to affordable medicines for the world’s 7 billion people. We are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of quality and integrity in everything we do. We only distribute our products through legally compliant channels, intended for prescription by healthcare providers consistent with approved labeling or applicable standard(s) of care.”
Alabama adopted a new three-drug combination last month after it ran out of pentobarbital — its previous lethal-injection agent — because the manufacturers have banned it from executions.
The new protocol includes the sedative midazolam hydrochloride, rocuronium bromide to arrest breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. No other state has used the exact combination, though Florida's protocol is very similar.
The campaign to dry up supplies of rocuronium bromide, which was first reported by the Financial Times, comes as states struggle to obtain drugs for lethal injections and cope with the fallout from a trio of botched or troubled executions.
The common drug in those three cases was midazolam, which some experts say is not a strong enough anesthetic to stop an inmate from experiencing a harrowing death. Reprieve and other execution opponents charge that rocuronium bromide and other paralytics mask a prisoner's pain and distress.
Alabama has asked a court to set execution dates for nine inmates, but correction officials have not said whether they have an adequate supply of drugs for those or where they obtained the chemicals. The state attorney general declined to comment.