Valuable Anesthetic Drug Off Market Due To Use In Executions

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.


Shannon R.
Shannon R4 years ago

Isn't there a way to streamline or regulate Pentothal to make sure it's only used in hospitals? Like the way stores have you go to the pharmacy counter to get Sudafed and can only get one box in an effort to curb the drug being used to make meth? I know this is an old article but perhaps other companies have since followed suit.

Luke Keagy
Luke K7 years ago

Think I had it when I had my molars cut out... phew.. that was fun lol I mean if I could remember anything, guess I was hitting on everybody and tried to get frisky with the nurses and tried to record the operation with my cell phone cam lol

Diane L.
Diane L7 years ago

What an absolutely ASININE poll question! I've had sodium pentathal several times. Glad it was available. I had "ether" when I was 6 years old and had my tonsils out. It had lasting "after-effects" and smelled horribly, took a lot to "put me under" and it's far harder to regulate dosage.

I'm going in for knee replacement surgery next week. I hope they use something as effective as sodium pentathal, otherwise, I'm out of there!

Janice L.
Janice Lawrence7 years ago

This is so stupid. I had this stuff when I had my wisdom teeth out. I tell you what, it's the best. You are so far out it's like you left the body completely. I had no pain, no fear, no memory of the operation, no dry sockets, nothing. It's a shame to take a really useful drug off the market.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

noted and thanx :0

Bon L.
Bon L7 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Don S.
Don S7 years ago

I only support the death penalty in cases of serial, or muiltiple killing, or if a child is murdered. Life and a day (no possibility of parole) in prison for all other adults convicted.

Julie W.
Julie W7 years ago

This is typical bureaucratic craziness. Why can't it just be restricted to hospitals and vets?

Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar7 years ago

The backwards medieval thinking of the supporters of Judicial Murder is epitomised by the lack of their education evidenced by the poor sentence structure and inability to even spell. (Diana S).

The U S A is alone in the western world with its poor Legal system and reliance on capital punishment but has plenty of company in Islamic countries.

Eugene Kravis
Eugene Kravis7 years ago

As a veterinarian, I noticed no mention of pentothal use in veterinary therapy and surgery. It is widely used in spay/neuter clinics. I expectp to see it reintroduced on a "use by licensed veterinarian only" label.very shortly.