Corrections Finally Gets Its Drugs

Anthony Pignataro:

In yet another twist in the already twisted tale of the Execution of Albert Greenwood Brown that never happened, today’s San Francisco Chronicle reported that the day after the state Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation cancelled Brown’s execution, in part because it lacked a suitable supply of a crucial anesthetic, the department obtained enough of said anesthetic to execute four people.

“The state Attorney General’s office told U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel it obtained 12 grams of sodium thiopental last Thursday, the same day Albert Greenwood Brown was to be executed,” the Chron reported. “But the execution was called off the day before when the Attorney General’s office said a state Supreme Court ruling and its apparent drug shortage made it impossible to execute Brown on Thursday.”

This, of course, should not surprise anyone (click here to read my recent story on why Brown’s abortive execution exemplifies the state’s broken death penalty process). Two weeks ago state officials said they couldn’t get any more of the drug until next year. In fact, they meant “next week,” but does that really matter now? There are still appeals and lawsuits to hear, so 2010 will remain execution-free.

Hospira, the anesthetic’s manufacturer, is an odd wrinkle in this ongoing drama. I didn’t get a chance to delve into their mixed feelings about all this — which mirror those of the state’s government and residents — in my previous story, but they’re clearly unhappy with the use of their drug in executions (and may even be concerned about possible lawsuits stemming from it’s decidedly “off-label” use). Here’s a statement they recently put out, saying in pretty uncertain terms that they didn’t design their anesthetic many decades ago to kill condemned prisoners:

“Pentothal (thiopental sodium for inject, USP) is a mature anesthetic drug — well established within the medical community — that continues to serve important needs in surgical procedures and other treatments.

“Hospira manufactures this product because it improves or saves lives, and the company markets it solely for use as indicated on the product labeling. The drug is not indicated for capital punishment, and Hospira does not support its use in this procedure.

“In the spring of 2010, Hospira communicated with departments of corrections in the United States to advise them of our position. We have done this every several years going bak to the days when the company was part of Abbott.

“Due to a supply issue with Pentothal’s active pharmaceutical ingredient, which is supplied by a third party, Hospira’s product is currently unavailable. We are working to get it back onto the market for our customers as soon as possible, and anticipate it could be in the first quarter of 2011.

“When the product is available, correction facilities may use it for needed medical treatments or surgical procedures provided by these institutions.

“It should also be noted that any licensed health care provider could purchase drugs from many sources — including drug wholesalers or other distribution channels — without buying directly from Hospira.

“Pentothal is listed on the FDA’s Drug Shortages Web site.

“It’s our understanding that the FDA has been in direct contact with the medical community regarding the need for the product’s market return, but we can’t speak to the specifics of those discussions.”

OCT. 8, 2010

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