Manufacturers' policies put hurt on execution drug supplies

When Hospira quit manufacturing sodium thiopental a couple of years ago, it complicated executions for death-penalty states that used it in a mix for lethal injections. Many turned to pentobarbital, but a shortage of that drug is now forcing some states to again seek alternatives like propofol, which Hospira ($HSP) and some other drugmakers manufacture, but which they don't want used for executions. A developing situation in Texas, the death penalty leader in the U.S., illustrates how states are scrambling for supplies in the face of drug shortages.

According to The Huffington Post, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice official acknowledged that the state's current supply of pentobarbital will reach its expiry date in September, when its next execution is set. Texas started using pentobarbital last year after Hospira stopped making sodium thiopental, which Texas previously used in an execution mix of three drugs. Death-penalty states have been having a difficult time getting supplies of pentobarbital, Richard Dieter, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Huffington Post.

Texas conducted its eleventh execution of the year just last week but has 5 more slated in 2013, including the one in September, according to Reuters. That compares with 10 executions in the rest of the country. Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark would not tell Reuters if the September execution will be delayed. "Alternate sources of pentobarbital are possible, or an alternate drug" could be used, he said.

Texas could potentially turn to surgical anesthetic propofol, a drug Missouri is seeking to use for executions. Propofol has also been in short supply after Hospira had to quit making it to deal with plant problems, but during the company's earnings call last week, Hospira CEO F. Michael Ball said the company is ramping up production of the drug. Some states have been turning to compounding pharmacies to custom-manufacture drugs for executions, but that practice figured into an appeal last month in a Georgia execution, NPR reported.

One factor affecting supplies for executions is that companies have been under pressure from groups opposing the death penalty not to sell them for lethal injection. Hospira has said it does not support use of any of its drugs for that purpose, while Germany's Fresenius and Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) both have policies against making their drugs available for executions.

"The states really scramble to go all over to get drugs," Dieter told The Huffington Post. "Some went overseas, some get it from each other. But these manufacturers, a number of them are based in Europe, don't want to participate in our executions. So they've clamped down as much as they can."

- read the Huffington Post story
- here's more from Reuters
- still more from NPR

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