Executions, Drug Companies, and High Drama in Arkansas

Protesters gather outside the state Capitol building on Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark., to voice their opposition to Arkansas’ seven upcoming executions. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

Little Rock       So, if you ask , what’s happening these days in Arkansas, you think you’re being a wit, because what in the world could be happening in Arkansas, now, really?  These days though there is high drama in Arkansas, none of which is heaping credit on the Wonder State.

For months the state has been getting huge publicity as it prepared to execute eight men over coming weeks before its supply of the drug used for the lethal injection expired.  After no executions in the state for years, this was a hurry up and kill move, rare anywhere in the country.  The first executions were scheduled in days.  Not surprisingly lawyers for the prisoners have predictably gone into court on all manner of grounds, but mainly questioning the drugs on offer.  One execution had been stayed, while others were moving forward.

Then, all heck seems to have broken out, and it came from unexpected directions.

Four pharmaceutical companies challenged the state over their stockpile of various lethal drugs and how the Arkansas Corrections Department had gone about getting its hands on the drugs.  One company, McKesson, the 5th largest company on the Fortune 500 in the US and the country’s largest drug supplier put a sharp point on the whole matter by flatly accusing the State of Arkansas of outright deception in how it had come to have the drugs.  Piecing the story together, Arkansas seemed to have made an order through a state physician on what had seemed to be a routine purchase of potassium chloride.  Two weeks after the sale, the company became suspicious that there was a slight of hand involved and demanded the return of the drug, issued a refund of the purchase amount, and sent a self-addressed shipping seal for return of the drugs.  Arkansas didn’t return them though, which led to McKesson going to court.

Needless to say, this is a unique situation in the history of executions in the USA.  Never before have drug companies tried to step in the way, saying they didn’t want to be party to this kind of thing or have any of their products involved.  In public comments, one company made it abundantly clear.  They saw themselves in the business of life-saving, not life-ending and believed there was reputational damage to any of their products being used in executions.  Given how sensitive corporations are of their images, I have to wonder if this might be a turning point in the long fight to end executions in the this country.  Obviously, the drug companies have decided that they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and that’s huge.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffin, also host of a popular show on KABF and a member of the radio station’s board, issued a stay of several days based on the drug company’s pleadings.  In late breaking news a federal judge in Little Rock acted to stay all the executions to sort out the issues, likely making the Arkansas government’s plans for a killing spree moot.  Governor Asa Hutchinson and the State Department of Corrections have thus far said nothing on the charges of duplicity in obtaining the drugs.

Never think Arkansas is boring!

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