KEY POINTS

  • Doctors are asking death penalty states to donate drugs to help ease COVID-19 patients' pain while they're on ventilators 
  • Drugs being requested include midazolam, vecuronium bromide and fentanyl 
  • States are reluctant to give the drugs over supply issues and death penalty politics 

As the global community continues to clamor for an effective treatment, vaccine and sedation drugs for COVID-19, a group of medical professionals are asking the nation’s death penalty states for medications used in lethal injections, so that they can go to coronavirus patients who are on ventilators.

The Associated Press reports that a group of seven pharmacists, public health experts, and intensive care unit doctors have written a letter asking states with the death penalty to hand over any reserves they might have of execution drugs to health care facilities. They claim the drugs could be put to life-saving use by helping patients on ventilators.

“Your stockpile could save the lives of hundreds of people; though this may be a small fraction of the total anticipated deaths, it is a central ethical directive that medicine values every life,” they wrote in the letter. Many medications used to sedate and immobilize people put on ventilators and to treat their pain are the same drugs states use to execute their inmates. Demand for these kinds of drugs increased around 73 percent last month.

The matter is expected to be complicated by states’ reluctance to turn over their drugs because they have had problems securing them as many pharmaceutical companies oppose their use in executions. Drugs being requested include the sedative midazolam, the paralytic vecuronium bromide and the opioid fentanyl. The issue continues to highlight not only a deep politicization of the death penalty, but also the depth of the everyday crisis consuming the COVID-19-striken population. Experts say these drugs are needed because putting patients on ventilators without them would be tantamount to torture.

The request comes at a time when treatment drugs continue to elude the medical community, despite claims from the White House that hydroxychloroquine is a promising option. A panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently recommended against doctors using a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19 patients because of potential toxicities. Although cases seem to be diminishing in certain areas of the country, hospitals continue to be overwhelmed by the crisis.

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