Thiopental shortage to linger with Hospira's exit

The highly anticipated Q1 2011 resumption of sodium thiopental manufacturing is no longer to be. Hospira is exiting the business and thus adding to the woes of surgeons and executioners alike.

The sole U.S. manufacturer of the anesthetic said Friday it will no longer produce the drug. But Pentothal is an older anesthetic, says Reuters, and doctors have moved on to other anesthetics during its shortage.

State penal systems are likewise turning to alternative drugs, as well as alternative sources. An Oklahoma execution last month relied on pentobarbital. And Arizona prison officials were able to obtain sodium thiopental from a non-U.S. supplier, while officials in Nebraska have found a source in India.

The Italian government is likely the straw that broke Hospira's Pentothal back. The company had planned to produce the drug at its plant there. But the government stipulation that the drug be used for medical purposes only--and specifically not for executions--was more than the drugmaker could agree to. "We cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment," the statement says. "Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take."

- here's the Hospira statement
- see the Reuters story