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More problems with propofol: Nixon changes course, manufacturer denies providing Missouri with the drug


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The anesthetic propofol, which Missouri was intending to use to execute convicted criminals, has at least twice been incorrectly shipped to Missouri Department of Corrections by distributors, Department records show, and the domestic manufacturer of the drug doesn’t know how Missouri came to possess the product.

Propofol is the powerful anesthetic Missouri plans to use to execute a convicted criminal for the first time in United States history.

Missouri first incorrectly received the drug from Morris & Dickson, a vendor used in Missouri since 2010. Morris & Dickson get their supply of propofol from a German-based manufacturer Fresenius Kabi.

After Morris & Dickson incorrectly shipped 20 vials of the substance to the Missouri Department of Corrections, Fresenius Kabi suspended their license to distribute the drug, a suspension that lasted until earlier this week, 11 months later, when Missouri finally returned the drug.

Photo via Hospira's website.
Photo via Hospira’s website.

Missouri is now using a new vendor, Mercer Medical LLC, to provide the propofol drug. But, this too could be problematic.

Department officials say Mercer has a domestic manufacturer providing the drug, which is significant because 85 percent of propofol is produced in Europe, where sanctions are being weighed to keep the drug from U.S. soil if prisons begin using it in executions.

However, the manufacturer of the Missouri stock of propofol, a company called Hospira, tells The Missouri Times that Mercer Medical was never authorized to distribute the propofol at all, and was certainly not permitted to send it to a correctional facility.

“They are not an authorized distributor, they did not buy [propofol] from us, and we did not sell it to them,” a Hospira spokesperson tells The Missouri Times. “It is unclear where they got it, but it wasn’t from us.”

The spokesperson asked to not be identified, but says that Hospira does not willingly allow propofol into any correctional facilities for the purposes of executions.

While Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster have long held that propofol would be the new choice of executions, Nixon issued a statement today reversing his position, and delaying the pending execution of Allen Nicklasson on Oct. 23 “in light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions.”

The delay leaves several unanswered questions.

The Missouri DOC has been directed to come up with a new method of lethal injection, but still has in its possession more than 100 vials of propofol, the origin of which neither the manufacturer nor the distributor can definitively state, and which may have arrived in Missouri’s possession through an unauthorized sale of a closely monitored substance.

Furthermore, the use of propofol in any state would likely trigger sanctions affecting the use of the drug in the U.S., which used propofol more than 50 million times last year according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

The Mercer Medical account manager who sold Missouri the propofol did not respond to several requests for comment, and the Missouri Department of Correction did not return numerous phone calls.