LITTLE ROCK — A pharmaceutical firm on Wednesday closed its account with the Arkansas Department of Correction in response to the department’s recent statement that it planned to use drugs purchased from the company in executions.
New Jersey-based West-Ward Pharmaceuticals told Department of Correction officials of its decision Wednesday morning, department spokeswoman Shea Wilson said.
West-Ward did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment, but its London-based parent company, Hikma Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement Wednesday that it decided to act after learning of Arkansas’ plans to execute prisoners using the company’s phenobarbital.
"Phenobarbital is the world’s most widely used anti-convulsant," the company said in the statement. "Hikma strongly objects to the use of any of its products in capital punishment. The company is putting in place concrete steps to restrict the supply of its products for unintended uses. It has ceased the direct sale of injectable phenobarbital to U.S. departments of corrections and will work directly with its distribution partners to add restrictions for unintended use to its distribution contracts."
The Department of Correction purchased 25 vials of phenobarbital and 25 vials of lorazepam, a sedative, from West-Ward Pharmaceuticals last month. Department officials said last month they planned to use the drugs in executions.
The amount of the drugs the department has in its possession would be enough to carry out several executions, Wilson said Wednesday. She said the lorazepam would be used to relax prisoners before they receive a lethal injection of phenobarbital.
No other state has used phenobarbital in executions. Six condemned prisoners in Arkansas have filed a lawsuit challenging a new state law that permits the use of phenobarbital in executions, alleging that the drug could cause agonizing pain, cause executions to take hours and possibly leave prisoners alive but severely and permanently injured.
The law, enacted this year, is a response to a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that struck down a 2009 state law governing lethal-injection procedures. The court said the 2009 law gave too much discretion to the director of the state Department of Correction, in violation of the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.
Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said Wednesday it was too soon to say whether the state would seek another supplier for the drugs. He said the governor’s office would consult with the state attorney general’s office and correction officials and "see where we go from there."
No execution dates currently are set for any Arkansas inmates.