US company stops making lethal injection drug

Saturday, January 22, 2011

WASHINGTON - The only US company that supplies an essential serum for lethal injections given to death-row prisoners has said that it would permanently cease production, in part because of problems with a supplier in Italy.

Hospira Inc, of Lake Forest, Illinois, said Friday it had never “condoned” the use of its product, sodium thiopental, for capital punishment.

Last year, the company interrupted production, saying there was a shortage of the chemicals it needed, but it also indicated at the time that it disapproved of that use of its product.

The company said it had intended to produce Pentothal - its brand name for the drug - at its Italian plant, but “ongoing dialogue” with Italian authorities about their objections to capital punishment had made this prospect unlikely.

“Italy’s intent is that we control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment,” Hospira said.

“These discussions and internal deliberation, as well as conversations with wholesalers - the primary distributors of the product to customers - led us to believe we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures,” the company said.

The company said it was forced to “exit the market” because of the “risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment.”

Shortages of the drug in September forced a slow-down in US executions. The state of California tried to rush an execution before the expiration date on its last remaining batch of sodium thiopental, but was halted by the California Supreme Court.

In November, a US federal judge ruled that the state of Oklahoma could employ a narcotic used to euthanize animals in executions because sodium thiopental was not available.

Sodium thiopental is a narcotic also used in hospital surgeries as an anaesthetic, and Hospira said it regretted that it could no longer provide hospitals with a drug that has “well-established medical benefits”.

In executions, sodium thiopental is generally used as the first of three drugs for its sedative and pain-relieving effect. It is generally followed by a muscle relaxant and a drug that stops the heart.

As Hospira’s supplies dried up in the US, states like California and Arizona obtained the drug from England. But the British government has also refused to allow exports of the drug for capital punishment, The New York Times reported Saturday.

A similar policy is being considered for all of the European Union.

Filed under: Medicine, World

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