Minnesota pharmacy board won't pursue policy aimed at making death penalty drugs harder to get

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Minnesota pharmacy regulators declined Wednesday to set a pioneering policy sought by death-penalty opponents that would explicitly bar the manufacture of lethal drugs for use in executions elsewhere.

The state Board of Pharmacy put the request aside without voting on it. Its leaders said they saw little need to be dragged into an emotional debate when they weren't aware of any cases in which Minnesota pharmacists supplied execution drugs. They say that possibility is remote and likely would run afoul of existing law.

"We haven't had the death penalty in Minnesota in 100 years," said board president Stuart Williams. "This is not an issue that is confronting any of the pharmacies or pharmacists in Minnesota."

A coalition of advocacy groups seeking the formal policy chose Minnesota — and will head next to other no-execution states like Wisconsin — because they are looking for a sympathetic launching pad for a restriction they hope will catch on. Their goal is to deny capital punishment states vital ingredients for putting condemned inmates to death.

Several drugmakers, including many abroad, have stopped selling drugs common in lethal injection. So death-penalty states have turned to compounding pharmacies for substitutes. Some won't disclose where they get the drugs, leaving open the possibility that they're coming from other states.

National associations for doctors and anesthesiologists have codes of ethics restricting credentialed members from carrying out executions. The national association for pharmacists hasn't adopted one, stirring the state-level campaigning.

Rosalyn Park, research director at The Advocates for Human Rights, recounted recent executions that had problems as she urged the Minnesota regulators to be trailblazers.

"This is tantamount to torture and pharmacists should in no way have to be put into that position of having to make, sell or otherwise provide these drugs for purposes of such an execution," Park said.

No one testified against the proposal, though Dudley Sharp of Texas, a defender of the death penalty, wrote to the board in opposition.

"No one believes that the state execution of murderers is a medical procedure between doctor and patient, regardless of the method of execution," Sharp wrote.

Even without a new policy, it would be difficult for Minnesota pharmacists to produce lethal injection drugs without putting their professional licenses in peril.

Cody Wiberg, the pharmacy board's executive director, said strict protocols surround compound pharmacies, which are distinct from neighborhood drug stores. For one, state law would demand a specific prescription for a specific inmate that would also require an in-patient physician examination for it to be valid.

"When I take a look at the totality of laws and rules in this state, I think it would be incredibly difficult for a pharmacist to legally participate in this process and not violate one of the rules and statutes involved," Wiberg said.

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