The only U.S.-licensed maker of a drug used by several states to execute inmates is selling the product to another drug manufacturer, saying pentobarbital -- a sedative never intended for capital punishment -- wasn't an important product for the firm.
Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc. said a distribution system meant to keep the drug out of the hands of prisons will remain in place as Lake Forest, Ill.-based Akorn Inc. acquires the drug.
Lundbeck acquired pentobarbital, also known by its trademark name, Nembutal, when it purchased Deerfield, Ill.-based Ovation Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2009. The Ovation purchase targeted that company's newer drugs and never involved an interest in pentobarbital, Lundbeck spokesman Mads Kronborg said Thursday.
Lundbeck said it would have sold off pentobarbital earlier but delayed the sale when controversy over its use in executions arose so that the company could restrict its use for capital punishment.
Lundbeck's system sells the product directly to hospitals and treatment centers using its previous distributor, Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, to ship the product.
"We have dealt with that very, very difficult dilemma that we were put in by this ... misuse that we are so strongly against," Kronborg said. "We handled that dilemma to the best of our ability."
Lundbeck, like other companies whose drugs took on an unintended role in U.S. executions, had asked states to stop using their product for capital punishment.
Messages left with Akorn seeking comment weren't immediately returned.
Several states, including Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, switched to pentobarbital after supplies of a previous execution drug dried up. States are expected to need a new drug soon as supplies dwindle because of the restrictions, which took effect in July.
States stockpiled supplies before Lundbeck created its new distribution system, but those supplies have an expiration date of no later than 2013.
Kronborg said there's no guarantee that prisons couldn't somehow get ahold of the company's pentobarbital. "But we are not supplying," he said.
Europe and European companies have acted in recent years to prohibit the use of drugs for executions.
On Tuesday, the European Union said it would place new restrictions on the sale of lethal injection drugs to countries that have yet to abolish capital punishment.
In April, British officials said they would block the export of three lethal injection drugs to the U.S. That same month, an Indian pharmaceutical company that supplied sodium thiopental to Nebraska said it would no longer sell the drug to American prison officials.
In January, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium-thiopental -- like pentobarbital, used by prisons to put inmates to sleep before other drugs kick in -- announced it would no longer make the drug. Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., made the announcement after authorities in Italy, where Hospira's factory is situated, demanded assurances the substance would not be used in executions.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.