Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shortage of Drug Continues to Impact Executions

E-mails obtained by The Associated Press show two companies declined to sell a key lethal injection drug to Kentucky prisons as national supplies of the sedative run short.

The e-mail traffic between Kentucky officials shows KRS Global Biotechnology explained its refusal by saying there was no doctor involved in the purchase of sodium thiopental.

No reason was given in the e-mails for a canceled order from Spectrum Chemical and Laboratory Products. Spectrum says the deal stopped when it sold part of its business last year.

The primary producer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, Inc., has, according to the Associated Press, written to Ohio and Mississippi saying the drug is produced with medical uses, not executions, in mind.

Kentucky in June gave Ohio some of the drug for an execution, but prison officials found no state willing to share with Kentucky.

According to the Associated Press, other state with problems securing sodium thiopental include:

- ALABAMA: Says it has enough unexpired sodium thiopental to carry out Wednesday's execution of Leroy White, sentenced to die for the Oct. 17, 1988, shotgun slaying in Huntsville of his 35-year-old estranged wife, Ruby.

- CALIFORNIA: California tried to recruit private doctors to procure the drug and went from state to state looking for supplies, including Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, records show. The state also contacted dozens of hospitals and general surgery centers, VA hospitals and the federal Bureau of Prisons, and even looked into obtaining a supply from Pakistan.

- MISSOURI: Officials told The Associated Press in fall 2010 that its supply would expire this year. Documents released by the ACLU said the state has enough for five executions but it's unclear when that stock expires. Without explanation, Gov. Jay Nixon spared a Missouri inmate scheduled to die Wednesday; the state's next scheduled execution is Feb. 9.

- TENNESSEE: Tennessee in early 2010 gave Georgia and Arkansas some of its sodium thiopental. But by summer, with a fall execution pending, they scrambled to find their own supply. On Sept. 9, the prison where Tennessee executions are held ordered sodium thiopental, apparently from a British company. It was delivered by Oct. 26, just days before a scheduled execution.

- TEXAS: Has enough of the drug to carry out 39 executions, but the supply expires in March, according to records obtained by the AP through a public records request. The state is waiting to see if the drug's sole U.S. manufacturer will have supplies to buy soon, Texas prisons spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. Death row inmate Cleve Foster received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday night on an unrelated appeal. He was sentenced to die for the abduction, rape and shooting death of Nyaneur "Mary" Pal on Valentine's Day 2002.

- VIRGINIA: Virginia, which executed a woman in late September, had an expired batch in early August that it tried unsuccessfully to get the FDA to approve, according to e-mails obtained by the ACLU from the California prison system. Virginia executed a woman about six weeks later and said it was in the same position as other states when it came to its supply. Virginia's prison department declined to comment.

- WASHINGTON STATE: Officials checked with the state's hospitals until they found one willing to provide the drug last year, according to an internal California prisons department e-mail released by the ACLU. It's common practice when the prison system is looking for drug supplies to contact local pharmacies, many of which are at community hospitals, said Washington prisons spokeswoman Maria Peterson.

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