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Missouri delays execution after EU threatens to cut off drug sales

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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will postpone the execution of a convicted murderer due to pressure from the European Union.

The state of Missouri was scheduled to execute convicted murderer Allen Nicklasson on October 23 with a lethal dose of propofol, a surgical anesthetic commonly used by hospitals, but a threat from the anti-death penalty EU to harshly restrict the sale of the drug to the U.S. convinced the Democratic governor to delay the execution and change the drug used.

The EU does not employ the death penalty in any of its member states, including in Germany, where propofol’s manufacturer is based. If Missouri were to go ahead with the propofol execution, the EU threatened to significantly cut propofol sales to the U.S., severely impacting hospitals which use nonlethal doses of the drug in surgical procedures.

Much of the propofol used at hospitals throughout the U.S. originates in Germany with drug manufacturer Fresenius Kabi. The stock Missouri planned to use for the execution was acquired from Louisiana pharmaceutical company Morris & Dickson in violation of its agreement with Fresenius Kabi, the original manufacturer.

FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson warned that propofol restriction would have serious consequences for hospitals and patients using the drug as an anesthetic. “Without the drug, we’re concerned that surgeries would be delayed and patients would be at risk.”

Gov. Nixon defended his surprising decision, saying that his interest is “making sure justice is served and public health is protected.” Nicklasson’s execution will be rescheduled and performed with a different drug.

The EU’s opposition to the death penalty has begun to have a significant effect on U.S. executions. Ohio used its last dose of pentobarbital, its favored drug for executions, in September and its Danish supplier, Lundbeck LLC, has refused to sell any more of the popular drug for executions.

Texas, which has the highest execution rate in the country, has faced a series of shortages of various lethal injection drugs. After Texas’ U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental ceased distribution due to international pressure in 2011, it began using pentobarbital instead, but is now seeing shortages of the new drug as well.

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