Death penalty drug shortage slows down executions

Those on death row might not get the injection as early as planned. CC by publik15/Flickr

Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic drug that has only one manufacturer, Hospira. Hospira has been denied the license needed to manufacture the drug. Because of this denial of a license to manufacture, several states are facing a shortage of the death penalty drug.

Hospira can’t get a license to manufacture from Germany or Italy

Hospira is the only manufacturer of sodium thiopental. The next move the company planned to make was to get another license from Italy. Unless Hospira could make sure the drug never got put in lethal injection cocktails, the Italian government said Hospira would never get a license. At the same time, the German Medical Association asked distributors to reject any U.S. requests for the drug. Because Hospira can’t get a license to manufacture the drug, the company will have to stop production entirely.

Death penalty drug in short supply

Because Hospira hasn’t been able to get a license to manufacture sodium thiopental, there are other problems. The death penalty drug is now in short supply. Many states no longer have enough sodium thiopental to execute all the individuals they have on death row. Exports of sodium thiopental have been banned by the British government too. That means it isn’t legal to get the drug anywhere. Last year, when faced with a shortage, Arizona and California both illegally purchased the drug from a wholesaler in Britain. All countries in the European Union are not allowed to use the death penalty. This has been the case since 2008.

Sodium thiopental replacement drug

A sodium thiopental replacement drug is something most states are looking into with the death penalty drug shortage. The barbiturate drug pentobarbital is being looked at. It is manufactured in the U.S. and has the same effects. Three executions in Ohio have used the replacement drug already. State Supreme Courts have judged pentobarbital as “humane” as it is already used in Oregon for doctor-assisted suicide.


The Guardian