UK blocks export of lethal injection drug to US

This gurney is used to perform executions at Terre Haute by lethal injection.

Lethal injection via thiopental sodium is on the global hot seat. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/U.S. Federal Government/Wikipedia)

In what it calls part of its “moral opposition to the death penalty,” the U.K. has decided to block the export of the drug thiopental sodium to the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. Thiopental is an anesthetic that has become increasingly popular as an execution drug by U.S. authorities. Per a London court ruling, any supplier of thiopental sodium to the U.S. is now required to obtain and export license. If it is discovered that the thiopental will be used for lethal injection, application for the export license will be denied by British government.

Lethal injection will slow considerably in the US

Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. maker of thiopental sodium, has announced that its current supply of the drug will expire in 2011, which will delay potential use of thiopental for lethal injection for a few months. This shortage has sent U.S. states in search of alternate suppliers or alternate execution drugs. Oklahoma has already received judicial clearance to use pentobarbital (an animal euthanasia drug) on humans. California claims to have already secured a supply of thiopental that will last until 2014, although it has refused to reveal the source.

Aside from the U.K., thiopental sodium is also known to be manufactured in India, Italy and Germany, although it remains unclear whether these countries have exported thiopental to the U.S. for the purposes of lethal injection. Italy’s Green Party has sought to limit export of thiopental on the grounds that it violates the Italian Constitution.

UK seeks European Union-wide ban on thiopental

Spearheaded by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills opposition, the U.K. plans to seek European Union-wide controls that will effectively ban thiopental export within the euro zone. Such a move would make U.S. lethal injections using thiopental sodium – which is considered a “one shot” execution drug that may not fully anesthetize criminals before causing massive heart attack – exceedingly more difficult to pull off.

Stateside, Hospira released a statement Monday in which it made its position on thiopental sodium clear – some would say as clear as mud:

“We support the use of thiopental in medically necessary procedures to improve or save lives … and we’re supportive of rules that provide that drugs are only used for medically necessary purposes.”


Wall Street Journal

Controversy over thiopental sodium

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