Drug shortage complicates execution schedule for death penalty leader Texas

The big concern when it comes to drug shortages is whether crucial drugs are going to be available to keep patients alive. In the case of executions, the opposite is true; a shortage may mean a brief extension of life. That is the issue playing out now in Texas.

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. Pentobarbital is the current drug of choice for the death penalty leader. Texas started using it last year after Hospira ($HSP) stopped making sodium thiopental, which Texas previously used in an execution mix of three drugs. States that have the death penalty 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 the surgical anesthetic propofol, a drug Missouri is seeking to use for executions and which Hospira manufactures. Propofol also has 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 that they will not make 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," he said.

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

Related Articles:
CEO says Hospira is making progress on manufacturing fixes
Hospira returning to market with sedative propofol
Fresenius executes new policy on lethal use of propofol
Teva returns to market with propofol
Docs demand Hospira action on execution drug