California Not Alone In Execution Drug Shortage

California Not Alone In Execution Drug Shortage

September 28, 2010 9:47 AM

(Copyright © 2010 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Reporting Chris Filippi

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California is one of several states grappling with dwindling supplies of the lethal drug used in executions.

Albert Greenwood Brown’s execution is scheduled for 9 p.m. Thursday, three hours before the state’s entire stock of sodium thiopental – an anesthetic that renders condemned inmates unconscious before lethal drugs are injected – expires.

KCBS Chris Filippi Reporting:

Time Running Out On Execution Drugs
“It is true that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has enough sodium thiopental to carry out this one execution that’s scheduled for September 30th,” declared California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Terry Thornton.

The California attorney general’s office said Monday it would recommend not scheduling any more executions after Thursday until the state can secure a fresh supply of sodium thiopental.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has said it likely can’t acquire more of the drug until next year.

“We’re really in this crazy situation,” added Natasha Minsker of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “It’s a legal roller coaster and it should stop.”

Surprising, perhaps, is the fact that this is not an unheard of problem.

“If California is going to have a death penalty it should be a dignified process and the procedure should give people faith in the criminal justice system,” Minsker said.

“Like other states, California is actively seeking supplies of the drug for future executions,” confirmed Thornton.

In fact, some executions in the U.S. have been put on hold because of the sodium thiopental shortage.

Several of the 35 states that rely on lethal injection are either scrambling to find an alternative anesthetic, or are considering using another drug for the actual execution. But both routes are strewn with legal or ethical roadblocks.

The shortage delayed an Oklahoma execution last month and led Kentucky’s governor to postpone the signing of death warrants for two inmates. Arizona is trying to get its hands on the drug in time for its next execution, in late October.

The sole U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., has blamed the shortage on unspecified problems with its raw-material suppliers and said new batches of sodium thiopental will not be available until January at the earliest.

Nine states have a total of 17 executions scheduled between now and the end of January, including Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

“We are working to get it back onto the market for our customers as soon as possible,” Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said.

But at least one death penalty expert was skeptical of Hospira’s explanation, noting that the company has made it clear it objects to using its drugs for executions. Hospira also makes the two other chemicals used in lethal injections.

Sodium thiopental is a barbiturate, used primarily to anesthetize surgical patients and induce medical comas. It is also used to help terminally ill people commit suicide and sometimes to euthanize animals.

Thirty-three of the states that have lethal injection employ the three-drug combination that was created in the 1970s: first, sodium thiopental is given by syringe to put the inmate to sleep. Then two other drugs are administered: pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes muscles, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Ohio and Washington state use just one drug to carry out executions: a single, extra-large dose of sodium thiopental.

Hospira has blamed the shortage on “raw-material supplier issues” since last spring, first promising availability in July, then October, then early 2011. The company has refused to elaborate on the problem. But according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press from the Kentucky governor’s office, Hospira told state officials that it lost its sole supplier of the drug’s active ingredient and was trying to find a new one.

As for the possibility of obtaining the drug elsewhere, the Food and Drug Administration said there are no FDA-approved manufacturers of sodium thiopental overseas.

Switching to another anesthetic would be difficult for some states. Some, like California, Missouri and Kentucky, adopted their execution procedures after lengthy court proceedings, and changing drugs could take time and invite lawsuits.

Obtaining sodium thiopental from hospitals does not appear to be an option, either. Sodium thiopental has been largely supplanted by other anesthetics in the U.S., and hospitals do not stock much of it.

Also, drug purchasing and use rules – and ethical guidelines that bar the medical profession from getting involved in executions – could prevent hospitals from supplying prisons with the drug, according to industry experts.

“Many of these cases, the victims have waited for 20 years, some of them longer than that. If we’re out of that drug, we need to have an alternative,” said Tennessee state Sen. Jim Tracy. Tennessee said it has enough of the drug for a November execution and expects to be able to carry out another in December.

Last spring, Hospira, a publicly traded company, sent a letter to all states outlining its discomfort with the use of its drugs for executions, as it has done periodically.

“Hospira provides these products because they improve or save lives and markets them solely for use as indicated on the product labeling,” Kees Groenhout, clinical research and development vice president, said in a March 31 letter to Ohio, obtained by the AP. “As such, we do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures.”

Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University surgeon and death penalty opponent who researches the issue, speculated the real reason for the unavailability of sodium thiopental is that its medical uses “have shrunk to the point that the company doesn’t want to make a drug that has no use but to kill people.”

However, Rosenberg, the company spokesman, said the shortage has nothing to do with that.

Last month, an Oklahoma judge delayed the execution of Jeffrey Matthews when the state tried to switch anesthetics after running out of its regular supply in August. Matthews was convicted of killing his 77-year-old great-uncle during a 1994 robbery. Oklahoma finally found enough sodium thiopental from another state, but the court-ordered delay continues.

A few weeks ago, Kentucky’s governor held off signing death warrants – which set execution dates and allow executions to proceed – for two inmates because the state is almost out of sodium thiopental. The state’s lone dose hits its expiration date Oct. 1.

Kentucky officials said they have contacted other states unsuccessfully in a search for sodium thiopental and have gotten calls from states looking for the drug.

Kent Cattani, Arizona’s top death penalty prosecutor, said Wednesday that the state doesn’t have the drug and he is not optimistic it can be obtained in time for the Oct. 26 execution of Jeffrey Landrigan, who was sentenced to death for stabbing and strangling a man in 1989. But later, an Arizona Corrections Department spokesman said the agency has placed orders for sodium thiopental and expects to have it by next week.

Georgia pressed ahead with an execution Monday night, putting Brandon Joseph Rhode to death for the 1998 killings of Steven Moss, 37, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during a burglary. Georgia’s Corrections Department said it has an “appropriate supply” of sodium thiopental. The California attorney general’s office had said it only has enough of the drug for Thursday’s scheduled execution of Albert Brown, who was condemned to die in 1982 for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, though a federal appeals court ordered a trial judge late Monday to reconsider his ruling that paved the way for the execution.

Virginia apparently had enough of the drug Thursday to execute Teresa Lewis, the first woman put to death in the U.S. since 2005. But officials suggested the state could have a problem after that, though Virginia has no executions scheduled.

“We are in the same position as every other state regarding this matter,” said Larry Traylor, Virginia prisons spokesman. He would not be more specific.

Missouri has enough for an October execution, but its supply expires in January.

Ohio, which spends about $350 for the drug for each execution, ran out of the amount state procedures call for just three days before a May 13 execution. The state obtained enough in time but won’t say where.

Prisons officials in Texas, the nation’s busiest death penalty state, refused to discuss how much sodium thiopental they have on hand, saying the information could inflame protesters outside the death house, and “people could get seriously hurt or killed.”

Late Monday night, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel erred when he offered Brown the choice of being put to death with a one-drug lethal injection or a three-drug cocktail.

Such a decision is “not consistent with California law” and placed “an undue burden” on Brown, the appeals court said in an unsigned nine-page opinion.

The court left it for Fogel to schedule a new hearing, though time is of the essence.

“After a four-year moratorium on executions in California, multiple proceedings in federal court, a state administrative law proceeding, and state court appeals, it is incredible to think that the deliberative process might be driven by the expiration date of the execution drug,” said the court.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

11 Comments

6 years 9 weeks ago, 12:39 PM

bigjake

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i have a solution

theres no shortage of rope is there?

6 years 9 weeks ago, 1:01 PM

HampsterW

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'hemp rope' made out of medical mary jane...LOL!

Change you can truly believe in comes from the barrel of a gun---------------------------------------------------------------------------------Ron Paul 2012----Vote the bastards out!---------------------------------
6 years 9 weeks ago, 1:07 PM

greg az

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If you take your loving companion (the 4 legged one obviously) in after a life time of being there for you the pooch will receive either of the paralyzing drugs above that stop the heart.. Fact is, (and if we have any one that has a better update on this, please tell me, as this bothers me) the dog is NOT put to sleep first.. It's still humane, but never the less its one dose of a muscle paralyzer that stops the heart.. Meanwhile the Inmate who has committed the most heinous of acts is given a drug that FIRST puts him to sleep, then the heart paralyzed..

You all can come to your own conclusions on this.. Seems pretty simple to me.. When the time comes for our loving companions (2 legged 4 legged or yourself) to check out, then do the old two step boogie.. When your dealing with evil seems the one step is fine..

a man has to hold his word, hold his beliefs, and hold a good sight picture.
6 years 9 weeks ago, 2:58 PM

ACE

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Greg az and R3bauer

Adam U have a PM Sir....

And now on death by injection- Yes it is a one step process Greg, w our pets, And it is very Humane. It is very peaceful. It is a sad moment, even if the animal is not Urs, but just by how peaceful it is, its a very quiet moment with yourself, the animal, and Ur Maker, (if U know what I mean) I know ppl stared griping about lethal injections done on ppl, because it used to B a 4 step process. The first would paralyze them, and then ppl started to claim that the 2nd injection was intensely painful for them..(thats why they now put them to sleep first) If I remember correctly, it was a blood clotting agent, that would thicken the blood to the point of not being able to flow. Then the next one would B the sleeping agent, then lastly would be the actual "muscle relaxer", that would completely stop the movement of the heart. Please dont quote me on this. And I honestly feel its too good for them. (The Bad People) The 1 step would B simpler and cheaper on us..the tax-payers that R freakin payin 4 it anyway. There's my opinion!!!

“When firearms go, all goes. We need them every hour.”- George Washington
6 years 9 weeks ago, 2:37 PM

HKBauer

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Firing squad, Tall tree short rope, Electric Chair, drawn and quartered, disemboweled? Seems like a lot of options out there.

6 years 9 weeks ago, 3:08 PM

luckybychoice

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spent casing hammered into the brain stem within a couple days of the death sentence being issued

i tried being reasonable,i didn't like it, NRA LIFE MEMBER,USMC VETERAN
6 years 9 weeks ago, 3:32 PM

ACE

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Ok LBC???

U have to elaborate on this one!!! And a couple of days in advanced??? Sounds gruesome, but I bet they probably have a lower % of people on death row tho... Just my guess....

“When firearms go, all goes. We need them every hour.”- George Washington
6 years 9 weeks ago, 10:14 PM

ecaman

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Lethal injection

I like LBC's solution, but it will never fly in this country. This idea probably won't either, but how about an overdose of heroin? Guaranteed to kill, and the convict will go out high and happy. The ACLU should be happy. If people object to the use of heroin, an overdose of morphine will also work quite well. No high - they just go to sleep - forever.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. (Mark Twain).
6 years 9 weeks ago, 4:36 PM

Vaquero

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Death Penalty

If you commited a crime so heinous to be deemed unfit to live, then I could care less if you are comfy and happy on your way out. Bury em with thier head exposed by the ant mound and sprinkle a little bait on 'em.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
6 years 8 weeks ago, 2:09 AM

Lyle Hutchins 1

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Low on Drugs? ? ?

All the bitch'n and cryin, Don't hurt the POS(Peice of shit) it's crule,on & on!!
Lets us remember what theise condemed inmates have doneto their victoms!!!
Not just the victom but each member of the whole family, the community. What is wrong with a little lead? It is naturial. Comes from Mother earth. This is also humane!! Like turning off the light switch. Faster than drugs, I might add. Better than what most victoms indoure.
Some wandering if they will lose their life, or be maimed for life. Remember all the little girls over just the past 10 years. Hell sakes. if theit throtes were cut it would be easyer than some of what thesePOS has done. I have no mercy for such an animal. All need to be housed in a bullpen type lockup and let them do each other in!!!!!! Drugs MY ASS!!!!!!!!!!
Lyle

Lyle Hutchinson
6 years 8 weeks ago, 7:12 AM

luckybychoice

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well that POS

Teresa lewis won't have to concern herself with the process,cause it worked on her,she's feeding the worms.

i tried being reasonable,i didn't like it, NRA LIFE MEMBER,USMC VETERAN
samD's picture
Posted by: samD
6 years 9 weeks ago
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