The current shortage of sodium thiopental in the U.S. has delayed or disrupted executions in Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma. The problem may have just become grave.
Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Illinois is the sole domestic manufacturer of the drug. The Associated Press is reporting that Hospira has decided to switch manufacturing of sodium thiopental from its North Carolina plant to a more modern Hospira factory in Liscate, Italy. But Italian authorities demanded a guarantee the drug would not be used to put inmates to death — an assurance the company said it was not willing to give.
Hospira has made it know that they were not happy that sodium thiopental was being used for executions. Although, Hospira continues to make two other drugs used in executions — pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes, and potassium chloride, which stop the heart.
"We cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment," a Hospira spokesman told the Associated Press. "Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take."
Last fall, states including Arizona, Arkansas, California and Tennessee turned to sodium thiopental made in Britain. In November, the British government banned the drugs export for use in executions, cutting off the supply to the U.S.
Oklahoma went in a different direction, switching to pentobarbital, an anesthetic commonly used to euthanize animals. The state has conducted two executions using the substitute drug.
In Texas,the Department of Criminal Justice said it is exploring following Oklahoma's procedure and considering substituting pentobarbital. The state has four executions scheduled between now and July but has enough sodium thiopental to carry out the next two executions.
Ohio, along with Washington, uses a single lethal dose of sodium thiopental for executions. Ohio officials are studying the recent Oklahoma executions and are considering pentobarbital as a substitute for sodium theopental.
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