Inmate and corrections officer test positive for coronavirus at Rikers Island; Jacqui Heinrich reports.

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Death penalty states have been asked to hand over their stockpiles of drugs used in lethal injections to instead help save the lives of hundreds of patients admitted to intensive care units after contracting the coronavirus.

Seven medical practitioners and experts addressed a letter to state correctional facility directors urging them to turn over their supplies of sedatives and paralytics to hospitals where they can be used for intubation and mechanical ventilation in critically ill COVID-19 patients.

“Health care workers across the United States are facing unprecedented shortages of vital resources needed to battle COVID-19,” the letter said. Scarce resources include not only ventilators and masks, but also key medicines such as sedatives and paralytics needed for intubation and mechanical ventilation.

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“Many of the medicines needed during this critical time are the same drugs used in lethal injections. These medicines were never made or developed to cause death – to the contrary, many were formulated to connect patients to life-saving ventilators and lessen the discomfort of intubation.”

“At this crucial moment in our country, we must prioritize the needs and lives of patients above ending the lives of prisoners,” the letter said.

The letter was sent out to the corrections departments in all states where capital punishment is legal, The Guardian reported. Not all states that allow capital punishment disclose if they stockpile medication for lethal injections. At least 19 states have execution procedures that involve sedatives and paralytics.

Capital punishment is legal in 28 states, but governors in California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have issued moratoria on the practice, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In 2019, Attorney General Bill Barr said the Justice Department would resume capital punishment for federal death row inmates for the first time in more than 15 years.

Shortages of certain types of sedatives and paralytics have been recorded by the federal government and pharmacy organizations. For example, the Food and Drug Administration recorded shortages for midazolam and fentanyl. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) recorded shortages for midazolam and fentanyl, as well as vecuronium bromide and rocuronium bromide. Those four drugs are used in executions in several states, according to the letter.

Dr. Joel B. Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery who was the main signatory, told Newsweek that only one state – Wyoming – had replied to the letter by Saturday to say its department of corrections did not have any of the specified drugs stockpiled. Wyoming has not executed a death row inmate since 1992.

“Your stockpile could save the lives of hundreds of people; though this may be a small fraction of the total anticipated deaths, it is a central ethical directive that medicine values every life. Those who might be saved could include a colleague, a loved one, or even you,” the letter claimed.

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