Sodium Thiopental, also known by its brand name Pentothal, is a well-trusted, reliable drug for surgical anesthetic uses across North America. It is the anesthetic of choice in many situations, including on geriatric, cardiovascular, obstetric and other patients who may be prone to side effects or complications from other medications.
It is also used in the United States to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection.
And because of this off-label use, the manufacturer of Pentothal has decided to stop manufacturing the drug, because it cannot guarantee to the government in the country of manufacture that the drug will not be used for executions.
Hospira, Inc. owns the patent and manufacturing rights to Pentothal. After supply issues restricted the ability to manufacture Pentothal in 2010, Hospira planned to resume manufacture of the drug in its Italian plant this year. However, the Italian parliament made it clear that Hospira would be held responsible if the drug was used for executions in the United States. As a result, Hospira has decided to withdraw the drug from the market altogether.
This withdrawal may simply be an easy way for Hospira to exit from a sticky situation. Certainly, the company could have migrated manufacture of the drug to another country without such restrictions. However, Hospira has recently been under pressure from groups such as Reprieve to monitor the use of its drugs more closely, and simply refusing to manufacture a drug commonly used in executions avoids unpleasant scrutiny involved in such cases.
The lack of availability of Pentothal, however, leaves those who used the drug for legitimate surgical situations at a loss. The drug’s unique qualities made it ideal for specific patients, and its absence leaves anesthesiologists forced to choose other less suitable options, increasing their use of drugs they are less familiar with in surgical situations.
It’s truly unfortunate that the United States’ death penalty practices are causing the lives of the innocent to be put at risk as well.
Photo credit: Zaldylmg on Flickr.