Prisons in death penalty US states urged to release drugs for coronavirus patients

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A group of senior health and medical professionals and experts in the United States issued an appeal to correctional facilities in all death penalty states to release stockpiled drugs used in executions to be used instead in hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.

The letter, signed by seven prominent anesthesiologists, pharmacists and medical academics, states that hospitals in the US are facing a serious shortage of sedatives and paralytics used for intubations and mechanical ventilation of the most severely ill coronavirus patients who suffer from breathing difficulties associated with the COVID-19 virus.

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The main drugs used in execution protocols and are in short supply according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) are midazolam, vecuronium bromide, rocuronium bromide, and fentanyl. Midazolam and fentanyl are also listed on shortage with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“At the bedside, we are already rationing the use of both midazolam and fentanyl, drugs that are central to the needed sedation for mechanically ventilated COVID‐19 patients. Other drugs used in executions – such as rocuronium bromide, cisatracurium besylate, and etomidate – are also needed in intensive care units (ICUs) for intubation and mechanical ventilation,” the health professionals said in the letter.

The group of medical professionals also said that based on publicly available information from a few states, stockpiled execution drug supplies could be used to treat over a hundred COVID-19 patients.

“When one factors in the drugs held by states that refuse to release details of their supplies, it is likely many times that number of patients could benefit from their release. All told, these supplies could be used to save the lives of potentially hundreds of patients suffering from COVID-19 and potentially thousands of patients in other ICU settings.”

The healthcare professionals pleaded that the US health system has never more desperately needed the medicines currently held in correctional facilities used for executions.

“Every last vial of medicine could mean the difference between life and death.”

The letter was signed by Joel Zivot, associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, Joshua Sharfstein, professor of the practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Prashant Yadav, lecturer at Harvard Medical School and fellow at the Center for Global Development, Kenneth Goodman from the University of Miami Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, Donald Downing, clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of Washington, Robert Greifinger, consultant on public health in Corrections, and Leonidas Koniasris, professor of surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

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