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Denmark Tries To Stop Use Of Death Penalty Drug

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The Texas death chamber in Huntsville. (credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

The Texas death chamber in Huntsville. (credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Denmark’s foreign minister said Thursday she will urge U.S. states such as Texas and Ohio to stop using a drug produced by a Danish company in lethal injections, and Britain announced it was banning the export of three such drugs to the United States.

Lene Espersen said she cannot take direct action against the company that produces pentobarbital because the drug is not exported from Denmark. It is produced by a plant in Kansas that is owned by Denmark’s Lundbeck A/S.

Pentobarbital is a sedative with a range of medical uses, including the treatment of epileptic seizures and other conditions that require some form of sedation. Since late last year, it has been used in the U.S. for lethal injections. Denmark, as is the case with the rest of Europe, is against the death penalty.

Espersen has been asked by a left-wing opposition group if Denmark could find a way of stopping some U.S. states from using the drug in its executions.

“I have no possibility to take direct action at American states’ use of the product for executions, but I will also contact these states through the Danish Embassy in Washington with a call to cease using pentobarbital,” Espersen said in a letter posted on Parliament’s Web site April 12.

In Denmark, lawmakers can put written questions to government members who must reply in writing.

“I find it deeply regrettable that a legal medical product is used for executions,” she added in her reply to the small, left-wing opposition Red-Green Alliance.

Espersen could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In Britain, Business Secretary Vince Cable said Thursday that a block on exports of pentobarbital, as well as pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, would be formalized in a few days. The country in November blocked exports of the sedative sodium thiopental for use in executions.

Copenhagen-based Lundbeck has found itself in a difficult position as several U.S. states have switched to pentobarbital for lethal injections to replace sodium thiopental.

Pentobarbital has been used to execute prisoners in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. Fellow U.S. states Mississippi and Arizona are also considering switching to the drug for lethal injections.

Lundbeck has written letters to U.S. prison authorities asking them not to use pentobarbital for lethal injections, but with little change. The pharmaceutical company, whose best-sellers include drugs for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders, is under pressure from human rights groups to take stronger action, such as rewriting distribution contracts with clauses prohibiting sales of pentobarbital to U.S. prisons.

Lundbeck has rejected that idea, saying it would be impossible for distributors to track how every vial is used.

The company has said it sells about 50 million doses of pentobarbital a year, but has declined to give any breakdown of sales. Pentobarbital, it has said, accounts for a very small percentage of overall sales.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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