Hospira kills production of death-row drug, Pentothal

By Alexandria Pešić

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Lethal injection

Hospira has confirmed it will no longer make Pentothal - an anaesthetic used in lethal injections – as the company “never condoned” its use in executions.

The firm said “issues outside of [Hospira’s] control” ​have forced its​decision to exit the sodium thiopental market after supplies of the drug ran low for a year in 2009 due to manufacturing problems involving its raw-material suppliers.

Hospira had planned to move production of the drug to its plant in Liscate, Italy, but Italian parliament said the anaesthetic, sodium thiopental, could only be made there if the firm ensured the drug would retain its mainstream use as a general anaesthetic and forbid its use in capital punishment.

Pentothal is used as sedative before a lethal injection comprising a cocktail of two other drugs is administered to a death row inmate. Sedatives are a legal requirement in the United States before executions are carried out.

But Hospira claimed: “Conversations with wholesalers – the primary distributors of the product to customers – led us to believe we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures.”

Based on this understanding, the firm said it would not make promises to the Italian authorities which may easily be broken should the drug make its way to a US jail, stating “it is not a risk we are prepared to take.”

Legal action charity, Reprieve, has since welcomed Hospira’s decision to exit the sodium thiopental market, but calls for the firm to monitor the use of its other products more carefully.

Hospira sold other lethal drugs, says Reprieve

Despite Hospira’s claim that it never “condoned”​ use of its drug in executions, Reprieve argues the company has sold its pencuronium bromide and potassium chloride products – the two other drugs forming the lethal injection cocktail – to US correctional authorities.

Reprieve’s investigator, Maya Foa said: “Reprieve has been asking Hospira to ensure that its products are not used for killing. This decision will certainly help and is to be applauded, but a broader long-term solution is needed.

“Pharmaceutical companies and governments must impose responsible restrictions on their drugs to ensure that they are used to help rather than harm people,”​ she added.

Germany urges pharma industry to deny US fatal drug

Working along these lines, German Health Minister, Philipp Rösler, has urged the pharmaceutical industry to refuse to supply drugs containing sodium thiopental to the US.

He believes that once US manufacturing of the drug stops, correctional authorities will quickly look to buy the agent from other countries so scheduled executions remain uninterrupted.

With full support of the German Medical Association (BÄK) Rösler has asked the German pharma industry to demonstrate its awareness for ethical trading by joining his campaign and ignoring requests from the US for supplies of the barbiturate.

Hospira did not respond to in-PharmaTechnologist’s request for interview in time for deadline.

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