On January 21, 2011, via its website, Illinois drug manufacturer Hospira, Inc. fired a shot heard ’round the world as it announced in a short and sweet press release that it would no longer be making sodium thiopental (product name, Pentothal™).  According to Hospira:

Hospira had intended to produce Pentothal at its Italian plant. … [W]e cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment. Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take.

In short, the Italian government was not pleased that the American drug company was going to be making a drug used in executions not on American soil, but on Italian, and said so.  Italy would not allow any sodium thiopental made at a plant within its border to be exported out of the country unless Hospira could guarantee it would not ultimately be used to kill people, and be willing to be liable to the Italian government for any executions that might slip past Hospira’s watch.  (What a warranty, right?)

Hospira chose to forego making the product at all.  Hence, the press release last week and the firestorm that has resulted. Because, as we know, this comes on the heels of a major shortage of the drug that has impacted state death rows for over a year now. 

What happens to state executions schedules now?  

When Hospira announced a delay, some states just stayed their execution schedules.  Others tried to move forward with alternatives.  For example: 

  1.  Ohio went for a single-drug lethal injection method. 
  2. Oklahoma substituted pentobarbital in their three-drug cocktail, the same drug that is used to euthanize dogs and cats
  3. Arizona went overseas to buy more product.

Florida, and other states, could follow any one of these three examples.  Or, as the Miami Herald points out, Florida can always return to another form of execution that is still legally viable: the electric chair

Other forms of execution that are still legal alternatives include the firing squad; hanging; and the gas chamber.  (For which states allow which method, please refer to our earlier post.)

Global Response: Try to Use Marketplace to Halt American Death Penalty

Yesterday, Germany announced it will not allow the export of sodium thiopental to the United States.  Since Arizona’s supplier was from Great Britian, Germany’s announcement does not carry that much power in the market. 

Meanwhile, Texas reveals it has a domestic supplier – Ohio’s Besse Medical.

It took the Associated Press using the Open Records Act to gain access to this information, but it has been revealed that Texas has a source of execution drugs here in the United States (although Texas worked hard to keep this information to itself). 

Besse Medical is a domestic supplier of sodium thiopental.  Now. 

So, while Hospira’s press release  may be getting lots of attention, it’s not the biggest news.  Besse Medical is just stepping into the gap, and apparently has been doing so for awhile now.