News story

New export control of Propofol announced

The move follows the recent decision by the state of Missouri to use Propofol in its execution protocol. There is currently a shortage of Propofol…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The move follows the recent decision by the state of Missouri to use Propofol in its execution protocol. There is currently a shortage of Propofol in the USA which means that correctional facilities may seek to obtain the drug from overseas.

The action builds on the Government’s previous decision to place export controls on drugs used for lethal injection and in successfully arguing for the adoption of similar controls across the EU.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“This country opposes the death penalty. We are clear that the state should never be complicit in judiciary executions through the use of British drugs in lethal injections. So I am using the levers I have at my disposal in this department to rule out any possibility of this happening.

“That is why we introduced a control on sodium thiopental in November 2011 - the first of its kind in the world - and imposed controls on three other drugs used in lethal injection in the US in April 2012. We are now taking further action to prevent Propofol being sourced from the UK for use in executions.

“The UK is leading by example on this important issue and we were successful in urging the adoption of EU-wide controls in December 2012”.

The necessary order to extend the controls will be laid before Parliament later this year.

The Government urgently considered the case for extending export controls to cover Propofol following a request from the campaigning group Reprieve. The group were concerned that the USA may look to source the drugs from the UK.

Propofol is an anaesthetic used everyday in hospitals in the US and Europe. Having consulted UK suppliers of these drugs and other interested parties, the Government is satisfied that legitimate medical trade will not be hampered by the decision.

Notes to Editors

  1. Most pharmaceutical products are not covered by the strategic export control regime, which is aimed predominantly at military and dual use goods. The decision to require a licence for the export of sodium thiopental to the US - taken in November 2010 - was the first of its kind.

  2. The Government added three more drugs - pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride and pentobarbital - to the list of those requiring export licences to the US in 2011.

  3. In December 2011, the European Union amended the Regulation on export of torture goods (1236/2005). This introduced an EU-wide control on the export of “short and intermediate acting barbiturates”. This includes thiopental and pentobarbital. The EU control on these items has therefore superseded the UK control. This does not catch propofol as it is not a barbiturate.

  4. The Government’s economic policy objective is to achieve ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries.’ It set four ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’ (PDF 1.7MB), published at Budget 2011:

• To create the most competitive tax system in the G20
• To make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
• To encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
• To create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.

Work is underway across Government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the Government wants the economy to travel.

  1. BIS’s online newsroom contains the latest press notices and speeches, as well as video and images for download. It also features an up to date list of BIS press office contacts. See for more information.

Contact Information

Name BIS Press Office Job Title

Division Department for Business, Innovation & Skills Phone




Name Josh Coe Job Title

Division Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Phone 020 7215 5943 Fax



Published 11 July 2012