One of the three drugs used in leathal injections is proving to be a problem for Hospira and states. Image: Flickr / andresrueda / CC-BY

Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic drug that has one manufacturer, Hospira. Hospira has been denied a license to manufacture sodium thiopental in Italy and Germany, under certain circumstances. This means that there is now a death penalty drug shortage in the United States.

Germany and Italy deny Hospira a license to manufacture

Hospira is the only manufacturer of sodium thiopental. The company applied for a license to manufacture the drug in Italy. The Italian government, however, said it would deny the license unless Hospira could assure that the drug would never be used in lethal injection cocktails. At the same time, the German Medical Association asked distributors to reject any U.S. requests for the drug. Hospira has said it will stop production entirely, given that it will not receive a license to manufacture the drug.

Death penalty drug shortage

Now that Hospira has been denied a license to manufacture sodium thiopental, there is a death penalty drug shortage. Many states no longer have enough sodium thiopental to execute all the individuals they have on death row. The British government has also banned all exports of sodium thiopental, meaning that there is no legal source of the drug. Last year, when faced with a shortage, Arizona and California both illegally purchased the drug from a wholesaler in Britain. The death penalty has been banned in all European Union countries since at least 2008.

Sodium thiopental replacement drug

Though there is a death penalty drug shortage, some states have already turned to a sodium thiopental replacement drug. Pentobarbital is a barbituate drug with similar effects that is manufactured in the United States. Ohio has already used the replacement drug in three executions. Pentobarbital is currently used in Oregon for doctor-assisted suicide and has already been judged as “humane” by state Supreme Courts.



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