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  • Some sedatives, paralytics and other drugs used in executions are also used in hospitals to treat patients.
  • As hospitals report shortages of some of these resources, doctors are asking state correctional facilities to hand over those drugs from their supply.
  • Some states with the death penalty have not shared how much of these drugs they have stockpiled.

Doctors from across the United States have written an open letter to states that allow the death penalty asking them to release certain medicines used for lethal injection to treat COVID-19 patients.  

While methods of execution vary, drugs used in lethal injections include four listed on shortage by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists: fentanyl, midazolam, vecuronium bromide and rocuronium bromide. The letter said both midazolam and fentanyl are used to sedate COVID-19 patients relying on a mechanical ventilator, while the other drugs are used in ICUs for both ventilation and intubation. 


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There are 25 states that still have the death penalty, along with three others that have stopped executions under a governor-imposed moratorium. 

"Your stockpile could save the lives of hundreds of people; though this may be a small fraction of the total anticipated deaths, it is a central ethical directive that medicine values every life," read the letter. "Those who might be saved could include a colleague, a loved one, or even you."

Public records reveal Florida, Nevada and Tennessee have varying amounts of rocuronium bromide, fentanyl and vecuronium bromide, respectively, that the doctors say could be used to treat up to 137 COVID-19 patients. Alabama and Oklahoma are also mentioned by name, although they have not disclosed the details of the drugs in their possession.


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The letter is signed by doctors Joel Zivot, Joshua Sharfstein, Prashant Yadav, Kenneth Goodman, Donald Downing, Robery Greifinger and Leonidas George Koniaris, from medical departments across the country, including Johns Hopkins and Harvard. However, the letter adds that the request comes not from their respected institutions but them as individuals.

Addressed to state correctional facility directors, the letter asks them to send any drug supplies in their store rooms to hospitals where they are needed. 

“At this crucial moment for our country, we must prioritize the needs and lives of patients above ending the lives of prisoners,” reads the letter. 


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Published on Apr 13, 2020