Saturday, September 25, 2010

Out of Ammunition

There's a drug shortage, and it's starting to screw things up.
Kentucky's had to delay an execution.  Oklahoma, too.
The drug us Thiopental Sodium, trade name Pentothal, manufactured exclusively by Hospira.  And there's a shortage.   Hospira is unable to get one of the ingredients, so they can't manufacture any more Pentothal.  No more sometime in the first quarter of next year.
Thing is, it's the first drug in the three-drug mix that most states use to kill people.  It's the only drug in the one-drug method that Ohio and now Washington use (and that California has permission to use on Albert Brown if he so chooses).  So when there's not enough to go around . . . .
Oh, Texas says it has plenty.  And Ohio (the north's Texas wannabe) has enough for the killings scheduled in October and November.  But we haven't got enough for next year's scheduled two (February and March) or for the killings the the Ohio Supremes plan to schedule each month from April through October.  
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.
The rest of the country? I haven't heard, though there are questions.  (See here, for instance, for the issue in Arizona).
So what's a state to do?
Ohio does have a fallback method of killing these days, a two-drug intramuscular injection.  But that's supposed to be for when the massive dose of thiopental doesn't work for some reason.  (See Romell Broom.)  
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.
There's another complication, too.  Hospira wants out.
In a letter sent to all fifty states back in March, Kees Gioenhout, Hospira's vice president for clinical research and development, wrote:
Our company is aware that three prescription drugs - Penththal, (thiopental sodium for injection, USP), Pancuronium Bromide Injection and Potassium Chloride for Injection USP -- have been used by some correctional facilities in the United States to administer the lethal injection in capital punishment cases.

As a manufacturer of all three agents, I am writing to inform you about Hospira's position on this matter.  Hospira provides these products because they improve or save lives and markets them solely for use as indicated on the product labeling.  As such, we do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures.

We realize your correctional facility is able to acquire most products through a variety of sources without ordering directly from Hospira.  Nonetheless, we felt it was important to communicate our position to you.
There is, of course, a simple solution.
From The People, Yes by Carl Sandburg
The little girl saw her first troop parade and asked, "What are those?"
"What are soldiers?"
"They are for war.  They fight and each tries to kill as many of the other side as he can."
The girl held still and studied.
"Do you know . . . I know something."
"Yes, what is it you know?"
"Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come."

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