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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Drug shortage threatens executions, but not in Texas

An earlier story we posted about California talks about how the state has only enough of one of the drugs used in to
carry out one more execution, the one they have planned for this week. Both that article and this article point to the
fact that the one company in the U.S. that makes the drug is objecting to it's use in executions. This is a refreshing
position for a drug company to take, and adds to the growing chorus of anti-death penalty sentiment in this country.


Drug shortage threatens executions, but not in Texas

By Mike Ward
Published: 8:19 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, 2010
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Though some executions in the United States have been put on hold because of a shortage of one of the drugs used
in lethal injections, Texas officials said Monday they have no such plans.

"We have three executions scheduled through the end of this year, and we have an ample supply to carry those out,"
said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville. "At the present, we are
unaffected by the shortage."

The Associated Press reported Monday that several of the 35 states that rely on sodium thiopental — an anesthetic that
renders condemned convicts unconscious so they can be overdosed on two other drugs — are having trouble finding
the drug after the sole U.S. manufacturer delayed shipment until January at the earliest because of manufacturing

Some states have delayed executions. Other states are struggling to find a supplier for executions slated later this year.
On Monday, California announced it will halt all executions after Sept. 30 because of the shortage.

Dan Rosenberg, a spokesman for Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., said the company is "working to get it back onto the
market for our customers as soon as possible." The company has told several states that it lost its supplier of the active
ingredient in sodium thiopental, according to AP.

But because the firm earlier this year sent letters to several states objecting to use of its product in executions,
questions have been raised about whether the supply slowdown may be intentional. Hospira also makes two other
drugs used in executions, officials in several sates told AP.

Texas prison officials on Monday refused to detail how much sodium thiopental they have on hand and how many
executions it will cover. Lyons said that if the supply does not resume, Texas might have to examine alternatives.

"If, at some point, our supply dwindles, we would have to reassess our protocol," she said.

Lyons said officials were not revealing additional details about their supply of the state's execution drugs for security
reasons. She and other officials did not specify their security concerns, but the agency has released such information in
the past. Lyons said that the agency has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to allow officials to withhold the

A barbiturate, sodium thiopental is used primarily to anesthetize patients for surgery and induce medical comas. It is
also used to euthanize animals and has been used to help terminally ill people commit suicide, people familiar with the
drug have said previously.

Since it started executing criminals by lethal injection in 1982, Texas has used a three-drug combination developed by
Oklahoma — and now used by most of the 33 states that execute by a three-drug combination.

Two states — Ohio and Washington —use a single, extra-large dose of sodium thiopental to execute prisoners.

In Texas, 3 grams of sodium thiopental is administered in an intravenous solution to render the convict unconscious,
followed by 100 milligrams of pancuronium bromide to paralyze muscles and 140 milliequivalents of potassium
chloride to stop the heart.

The drugs are generally administered over a five-minute period. Texas officials have said the combination creates no
substantial risk of pain.

As for the possibility of obtaining sodium thiopental elsewhere, the Food and Drug Administration said there are no
FDA-approved manufacturers of the drug overseas. Most U.S. hospitals do not stock the drug, and medical ethics
policies would likely prevent its purchase for use in executions.

If sodium thiopental does not become available again soon, states, including Texas, might find it difficult legally to
switch to another drug. They have adopted the current three-drug cocktail after lengthy court challenges, and
changing to another drug would likely trigger new lawsuits and appeals.

According to news reports, an Oklahoma judge last month delayed one execution when the state tried to switch
anesthetics after running out of its regular supply. While enough sodium thiopental was finally obtained from another
state, the court-ordered delay remains in effect.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear several weeks ago held off signing death warrants to allow executions to proceed for
two convicts because the state is almost out of sodium thiopental. The state's lone dose hits its expiration date Oct. 1,
and officials have said they so far have been unsuccessful in purchasing additional doses.

In Arizona, officials initially said the state did not have the drug and were not optimistic about obtaining it in time for
an Oct. 26 execution. But they have since said they placed an order and expect to have it by next week.

Virginia on Thursday executed the first woman put to death in the United States since 2005. But officials have since
suggested that the state could have a problem after that, though it has no further executions scheduled.

Missouri has enough sodium thiopental for an October execution, officials said, but its supply expires in January. Ohio
ran out of the amount of sodium thiopental that state procedures call for just three days before a May 13 execution.
The state obtained enough in time but won't say where, according to AP.


Additional material from The Associated Press.

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