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Missouri drops new execution drug after European opposition

By Kevin Murphy

Kansas City, Missouri (Reuters) - Missouri on Friday abandoned plans to become the first U.S. state to use the anesthetic propofol in an execution after it drew strong opposition, especially in Europe, where 90 percent of the drug is manufactured.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a longtime death penalty supporter, announced that propofol would not be used in an execution scheduled for later this month, and directed state officials to find another lethal drug for future use.

The action was a dramatic example of how opponents of capital punishment in Europe and the United States have exerted pressure on major pharmaceutical companies to cut off supplies of drugs for executions, forcing states to scramble for alternative supplies.

Propofol is widely used as an anesthetic in hospitals and its potential use in executions prompted the European Union to threaten to halt exports to the United States. The 28-member European Union has outlawed the death penalty.

On Thursday, German manufacturer Fresenius Kabi confirmed that it took the extraordinary step of suspending shipments of propofol to a U.S. distributor this year after 20 vials were mistakenly sent to Missouri for use in executions.

A leading death penalty expert, Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said he had never before heard of a drug firm suspending shipments to a distributor over their possible use in U.S. executions.

Nixon's announcement on Friday came just two days after the state said it would return the propofol to the distributor. The drug was to be used in the October 23 execution of convicted murderer Allen Nicklasson.

"In light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions, I have directed the Department of Corrections that the execution of Allen Nicklasson, as set for October 23, will not proceed," Nixon said in a statement.

The German drugmaker praised Missouri's reversal.

"This is a decision that will be welcomed by the medical community and patients nationwide who were deeply concerned about the potential of a drug shortage," Fresenius Kabi USA Chief Executive John Ducker said in a statement.

The company said it has agreements with 14 U.S. distributors that the drug will not be sent to jails and prisons.

It was not clear what drug Missouri would use for future executions. Many states are using the barbiturate pentobarbital, but it also has been hard to buy for executions.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Greg McCune and Gunna Dickson)

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