Friday, September 24, 2010 02:56 AM
By Alan Johnson
Shortage of anesthetic has caused delays in killings in several states
The company that makes the drug Ohio uses to execute condemned prisoners wants the state to stop killing people with its anesthetic.
"Hospira provides these products because they improve or save lives and markets them solely for use as indicated on the product labeling," wrote Dr. Kees Groenhout, the Illinois company’s vice president for clinical research and development, in a letter obtained by The Dispatch.
"As such, we do not support the use of any our products in capital-punishment procedures."
The letter protesting that the purpose of Hospira’s drug has been altered went to Ohio and the 49 other states.
But the state has no intention of changing its one-drug method of execution.
However, Ohio might be forced to put lethal injection on temporary hold next year because of a national shortage of the drug.
Prison officials have enough thiopental sodium – the only drug used in Ohio – to conduct the two remaining executions scheduled for this year: Michael Benge of Butler County on Oct. 6 and Sidney Cornwell of Mahoning County on Nov. 16.
Beyond that, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction isn’t committing to how it will respond to the shortage. Spokeswoman Julie Walburn said the agency might have to ask the governor to grant temporary reprieves for condemned killers.
Executions are scheduled in February and March 2011, and prison officials have been told to hold open additional dates each month in April through October.
A national shortage of thiopental sodium, a widely used anesthetic, has caused delays in executions in several states, most recently Oklahoma and Kentucky. Only Texas, which carries out the most executions of any state, has a sufficient supply.
The shortage worsened after another anesthetic, propofol, was linked to the death of pop star Michael Jackson. As a result of the bad publicity, many anesthesiologists switched to thiopental sodium.
Thiopental sodium is manufactured only by Hospira, of Lake Forest, Ill. Company spokesman Dan Rosenberg cited "manufacturing issues," specifically the shortage of a key ingredient from a supplier, as the reason for the delay. The resumption of production "could be in the first quarter of 2011," he said.
Last December, Ohio became the first state in the nation to switch to a one-drug lethal-injection protocol from one involving three drugs. The state of Washington has since made the same change. Most of the 34 other states that have the death penalty also use thiopental sodium as part of a three-drug protocol.
The drug costs the state $351.10 for the 5 grams needed for a lethal injection. Another 5 grams is kept as backup.
Walburn said the state will not use the alternative method of intramuscular injections as a primary means of execution. That method, involving strong painkiller drugs, is to be used only when the single-drug method fails, she said.