Lethal Injection Drug Shortage May Delay Executions
The Hospira saga continues:
The shortage of an anesthetic widely used in lethal injections is likely to worsen, delaying some executions and forcing states to adopt new drug combinations, after the sole American manufacturer said Friday that it would no longer produce the drug.
The manufacturer, Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., had originally planned to resume production of the drug, sodium thiopental, this winter, at a plant in Italy, giving state corrections departments hope that the scarcity experienced last fall would ease.
But the Italian authorities said they would not permit export of the drug if it might be used for capital punishment. Hospira said in a statement Friday that its aim was to serve medical customers, but that “we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections” and the company did not want to expose itself to liability in Italy.
Hospira does not have domestic facilities that can make sodium thiopental, said Daniel Rosenberg, a spokesman for the company, and has decided to “exit the market.” No other American companies manufacture the drug, which has largely been supplanted by alternatives in hospitals, but is used by 34 of the 35 states that use lethal injection to carry out the death penalty.
… But probably there won’t be any delay:
Many states are expected to follow the lead of Oklahoma, substituting pentobarbital —another, more easily available anesthetic — in a similar three-drug sequence.
Pentobarbital is widely used in veterinary medicine and is also used in legal human euthanasia in Oregon. Death penalty opponents challenged the switch last year in Oklahoma, arguing that the effectiveness of pentobarbital in preventing pain during executions had not been proved. But a federal judge sided with the state, which has since used the new drug in the executions of three people.
Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said the department orders the drug through a “private pharmacist” but would not specify who.
Only one company, Lundbeck Inc., now markets injectable pentobarbital in the United States, according to the F.D.A., but the agency said it was not aware of any shortage.