Hospira (NYSE:HSP), the sole maker of leading execution drug Pentothal, has decided to permanently stop producing the injectable drug, citing pressure from Italian authorities and fears of mounting liability.
The decision comes on top of months of controversy surrounding thiopental sodium, which many states administer during lethal injection, and Hospira’s exit from the market may put executions on hold.
Many states have already been running low on thiopental, a shortage that started when Hospira suspended production in 2009 due to manufacturing issues, and will likely have to start searching for alternate forms of anesthetics.
The Lake Forest, Ill-based company said it has never condoned the use of Pentothal as a means of execution. It had developed the drug for medical purposes, particularly for anesthesia and medically induced comas.
The specialty pharmaceutical company had intended to resume production of Pentothal at its plant in Liscate, Italy, during the first-quarter of this year. But in December, the Italian parliament issued an order binding the government to ensure that Hospira’s Italian-made thiopental would not be used in U.S. capital punishment.
Given the opposition, internal deliberation, and conversations with the drug’s wholesalers, which are the primary distributors of the product to customers, Hospira determined that it would not be able to prevent Pentothal from “being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures,” and would therefore exit the sodium thiopental market to avoid the risk of liability by Italian authorities.
“Italy's intent is that we control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment,” the company said in a statement. “Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take.”
The company went on to note that it regretted pulling the drug for issues outside of its control, particularly since patients who use the drug for its intended purposes will now be forced to find alternate medications.