Doctors call on states to give drugs used for executions to help fight coronavirus

'At this crucial moment for our country, we must prioritise the needs and lives of patients above ending the lives of prisoners'

Graig Graziosi
Friday 10 April 2020 20:32 BST
Coronavirus: The hospitals being built to deal with the pandemic

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Louise Thomas

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The same drugs used for executions in US prisons may end up saving lives in the fight against the coronavirus.

US doctors are calling on states to relinquish drugs used in lethal injections so they can use them as sedatives and paralytics when treating patients suffering from COVID-19.

A group of doctors sent letters to several state prison directors asking for the drugs.

"Your stockpile could save the lives of hundreds of people," the letter stated. "At this crucial moment for our country, we must prioritise the needs and lives of patients above ending the lives of prisoners."

Most states have stopped using the drugs in executions since the onset of the pandemic.

According to Business Insider, Texas courts have issued three stays of execution since the mass spread of the coronavirus across the US, citing disruption to the court system as the cause.

The New York Times reports that hospitals are facing a shortage of the drugs, which are used to help alleviate respiratory suffering in coronavirus patients.

"We're running out of all the drugs," a doctor told the Times. "So we're on second line, third line, fourth line medications. We've run out of the ability to monitor these people the way we conventionally monitor them. So we're just sort of flying blind a little bit."

Hospitals are most in need of drugs that are used to keep patient's airways open, as well as antibiotics, antivirals and sedatives.

The drugs are primarily used to treat patients on ventilators and help doctors control their lung functions, reduce fevers, fight lung infections, cope with pain and resuscitate individuals who suffer a cardiac arrest.

As a result of the shortages, doctors have had to rely on drugs like midazolam, hydromorphone and ketamine, the effects of which last longer than the drugs doctors would typically use. Due to the longer sedation time, it becomes more difficult for patients to return to a lucid state.

"Many places are already shifting to using medications that we tried to avoid," Dr Lewis J Kaplan, president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, said. "We had to cut down tremendously on the amount of benzodiazepines, which you may be familiar with as Ativan or Valium, because they may induce delirium, especially in people who are having trouble sleeping. But we're now using those medications where our standard sedatives are running low."

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