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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Impact of Pfizer decision to stop selling death penalty drugs unclear in Florida

If Florida again begins executions, the state may find itself in a tough situation.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer on Friday announced it would no longer sell its drugs for use in executions, the New York Times reported. That, the Times wrote, means there are no remaining FDA-approved sources of lethal injection drugs in the country.

Yet it is unclear how Florida might be affected.

A series of three injections are used for executions in the death chamber at Florida State Prison: Midazolam hydrochloride, which sedates the inmate; vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes; and potassium chlloride, which stops the heart.

The source of those chemicals, however, is protected under state law. Asked Friday how Pfizer's decision may affect Florida, Department of Corrections spokesman McKinley Lewis could not confirm whether or not the state receives lethal injection drugs from the company.

"The Florida Department of Corrections does not disclose the identities of our drug suppliers," Lewis said, citing state laws that block the release of information identifying "any person prescribing, preparing, compounding, dispensing, or administering a lethal injection" or that "would jeopardize a person’s safety."

Pfizer was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Right now, executions are effectively on hold in Florida while the state Supreme Court decides how to implement the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst vs. Florida. That decision threw out the state's death sentencing rules but did not make clear whether the 390 people currently on death row should still be executed.

Lawyers for some inmates have argued that those old cases should be converted to life sentences. In the meantime, the Florida Supreme Court already blocked two executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott from going forward.

However, the sentencing rules have since been re-written by the state Legislature, and the state's first death sentences under the new law could be forthcoming.

If executions do resume, the state will need access to lethal injection drugs. All executions in Florida are done by lethal injection, unless an inmate requests the electric chair.

[Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2016 5:18pm]


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