ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — In a new tactic, death penalty opponents are lobbying state health regulators to prohibit pharmacists from mixing the drugs for lethal injection.
They started Wednesday in Minnesota, where capital punishment doesn't exist and where there isn't evidence pharmacists are supplying any execution drugs. The push is driven by concern that unproven drugs have caused botched executions and a belief that pharmacists are duty-bound to promote well-being rather than aid in death.
Minnesota's Board of Pharmacy opened its discussion but postponed any action until September to give people on both sides of the issue time to make their case. Even then, board executive director Cody Wiberg said his preference would be to let the Legislature decide next year given the controversial nature.
"Just because we don't have a death penalty and you might get a more sympathetic ear than a state like Texas, it does not mean it will be an easy row to hoe," Wiberg told The Associated Press after the hearing.
Minnesota abolished its death penalty in 1911 and lawmakers turned back an effort to reinstate it a decade ago.
That helped draw the attention of Kelsey Kauffman, a retired-teacher-turned-activist from Indiana who took up the cause after learning that national codes of ethics don't specifically prevent pharmacists from assisting in executions. Kauffman and her allies, including Amnesty International USA, plan to approach licensing boards in Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin next in hopes of eventually building a critical mass.
"Until the past year pharmacists had no role to play in executions. That's why it's a big issue now," she said. "There's nothing that's stopping death penalty states from getting their drugs from non-death penalty states."
Capital punishment states are in pursuit of new supplies after several drugmakers — many based in Europe — stopped selling drugs for use in lethal injections. They've looked to compounding pharmacies to help fill the void.
In execution-leading Texas, state officials refuse to disclose where they get drugs used in lethal injections. In neighboring Oklahoma, where state officials are investigating an execution that went awry in April, a pharmacy regulator said health boards don't belong in the death penalty debate.
"We haven't even considered it," said Cindy Hamilton, with the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy. "I think that's a political issue, and it's not our job to get into political issues."
Gay Dodson, executive director of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, also was dubious.
"Texas is such a proponent of using the death penalty, I don't think it would get through the Legislature, but who knows?"
The proposal presented to Minnesota officials is aimed at compounding pharmacies, which custom-make drug preparations, not neighborhood drug stores. Since death penalty drugs are injected, they could only be made at a small handful of them in Minnesota that are licensed to make sterile preparations, or perhaps at hospital pharmacies. Wiberg said he would be surprised if any Minnesota compounding pharmacies were doing so but couldn't say so with certainty.
Steve Anderson, owner of The Apothecary Compounding Pharmacy in Sartell, does sterile compounding but said he probably wouldn't want to make death penalty drugs.
"I would have a problem compounding medications for that use. Just my Christian background. It probably wouldn't be something that I would agree to anyway," Anderson said.
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis and Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa, Oklahoma contributed.
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- death penalty