Hospira to stop making drug used in executions

By Bruce Japsen
Posted Jan. 21 at 2:03 p.m.

Scores of executions across the U.S. are expected to be delayed for what could be several months a Lake Forest drug company’s decision to stop making a key anesthetic used in putting inmates to death in 34 states.

Hospira Inc.  –  the sole producer of Pentothal –  said Friday that  it was unable to reach an agreement with European regulators on how to resume production and distribution of its brand version for the drug sodium thiopental, a key ingredient in a drug cocktail used in executions.

“This is a very big deal because so many states use the drug (in their executions),” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but states were hoping for Hospira to get back in this business.”

Dieter now expects states to move to other anesthetics such as pentobarbital, but that can mean lengthy court battles and potential legislative delays. Late last year,  Oklahoma’s move to a new drug needed approval by a federal judge who declared pentobarbital fell “short of the level of risk” considered cruel and unusual punishment by the Supreme Court, the Oklahoman said in a November news story.

Hospira, which never condoned the use of its Pentothal for executions, said it was unwilling to take on the liability risk after officials in Italy demanded the company “control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment.”

In a statement to the Tribune, Hospira said: “These discussions and internal deliberation, as well as conversations with wholesalers –  the primary distributors of the product to customers –  led us to believe we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures. Based on this understanding, we cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by Italian authorities if the product is diverted.”

The drug is not approved in the U.S. for use in executions but has been used off-label for years for such purposes.

Like other prescriptions, physicians are known to provide drugs to patients in off-label form.


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  1. Scott Jan. 21 at 11:29 a.m.

    What is so inhumane about the guillotine?

  2. hwga Jan. 21 at 11:31 a.m.

    Maybe we can send our “death row” prisoners to Italy. Let them take care of them.

  3. jack (me) Jan. 21 at 11:38 a.m.

    While I don’t have an opinion about the merits of this drug, why isn’t this Lake Forest based company manufacturing in the U.S.?

  4. Deb Jan. 21 at 11:56 a.m.

    While naming “manufacturing issues” as the reason for discontinuing their production of this drug – and therefore their participation in the implementation of the death penalty – makes Hospira’s decision feel much more corporate than ethical, I applaud them nonetheless for doing the right thing and pulling out of this unjust “market.” And kudos to the Italian government for insisting on what is right, by regulating the production of drugs that may be used for such unjust, inhumane purposes as the death penalty!

  5. Vann Jan. 21 at 11:59 a.m.

    In other news, Smith and Wesson today steps up to fill the gap left by Hospira.

  6. victor Jan. 21 at 12:26 pm

    This poses no problem. There are still plenty of trees, and no shortage of rope.

  7. Publicus Jan. 21 at 12:27 pm

    Deb: Bleeding heart, holier-than-thou naifs like you give me a pain you know where. You tell me where the justice is in forcing the law-abiding taxpayer to have to pay for the rest of the felon’s days to clothe, house and feed him/her, provide medical care and have the courts clogged with inmate lawsuits whining that their toilet paper isn’t soft enough?

  8. Tim Jan. 21 at 12:45 pm

    I believe Smith & Wesson will soon pickup the production of this drug. I think you apply right behind the prisoner’s left ear.

  9. Rich Jan. 21 at 12:51 pm

    Publicus: And know-it-all, holier than thou windbags like you inflict similar pain oon the rest of us. You tell me where the justice is in maintianing a system that’s repeatedly been shown to send people to Death Row, who didn’t do the crime in the first place. While you’re at it, tell us all where the sense is in spending more to execute someone (and it does cost more, when the legal bills are tallied up) than it does to confine him for life. And since you are soooo much wiser than Deb, why not tell us why we should be on the same side of this issue as China, Iran and Somalia? Are they that much smarter, just, or democratic than western Europe, and most of the free world?

  10. Rachel Jan. 21 at 1:01 pm

    I wonder if this is why the State of Ohio really ramped up its execution efforts last year.

  11. Bob Jan. 21 at 1:29 pm

    States could probably get it cheaper via mail order from Canada anyway.

  12. Stevo Jan. 21 at 1:35 pm

    I agree with Deb and Rich. Pubes is a bit off the mark. Promoting execution as a solution to toilet paper issues in prisons is a bit obtuse.

  13. Jon Jan. 21 at 2:11 pm

    Execution is not a deterent, that’s a garbage excuse. Execution is a decision by a jury of your peers or a judge that is based off the facts in a case that you killed an innocent person….PERIOD! Rights no longer apply in this case, you killed an innocent person….PERIOD! If you raped and killed and innocent person, you die….PERIOD! If you killed 3 people in a home invasion, you die….PERIOD! If you killed a cop, you die….PERIOD! To all you liberals, get my point….PERIOD!

  14. Ela Jan. 21 at 2:39 pm

    Jon, you like periods, don’t you?

  15. sirbOOm Jan. 21 at 2:51 pm

    Well, at least those who’ve killed another can stay alive now.

  16. Jon Jan. 21 at 2:53 pm

    Ela, Well some people just don’t get it….PERIOD

  17. PJH Jan. 21 at 3:04 pm

    Jon – You seem to think a Jury never makes a mistake. Since 1977 IL alone has had 20 Death Row inmates exonerated of their crimes, most by DNA. Two of those since the recent, more stringent Death Penalty regulations were put in place. If you think this is a liberal vs. conservative issue, are you then saying the conservative stance is to execute innocent people? I seem to believe preserving an innocent life is not or should not be a political issue at all.

  18. ChiDoc Jan. 21 at 3:06 pm

    Astounding that Hospira feels it is under the jurisdiction of a foreign government in its business dealings with individual U.S. states. What ever happened to sovereignty?

  19. Publicus Jan. 21 at 3:19 pm

    Rich: You’re a pretty good winbag yourself. Multiple studies have established that the man on the street in Western Europe – you know, people like us – do NOT agree with their societal elites’ oposition to capital punishment. As for the cost factor, that’s only because the felons and their “useful idiot” supporters have figured out how to game the system by filing an unending number of up-and-down appeals. Sorry boyo, but when it takes up to three decades for execution of sentence, something IS wrong. By the way, the availability of DNA evidence essentially blows out of the water the claims that innocents are being executed. Which may explain, surprisingly, why a number of PROSECUTORS fight to have it excluded – guess they don’t want their “success rate” endangered. By the by, it has never been conclusively proven that an innocent person has been executed – good propaganda but not truth. And one doesn’t have to be a right-wing redneck to favor capital punishment. If you’re too squeamish, stand aside – I’ll sleep very sondly at night after administering the needle to a Gacy or Dahlmer.

  20. thedude Jan. 21 at 4:46 pm

    The death penalty has been proven to cut recidivism by 100%.

  21. master Jan. 21 at 4:47 pm

    To Publicus: Yes tough guy, I am sure you have the guts to push the button that injects the chems.

    Go back to watching Rambo due…seriously.

    Taking life should never be a simple matter, whatever the reason. It should always be challenged. One mistake is one too many.

  22. Southernsider Jan. 21 at 4:51 pm

    We could always revert back to a lethal injection of a bullet into the brain?

  23. Ron Jan. 21 at 5:37 pm

    I love reading comments of people who have no idea what the death penalty actually entails. It is on average 2 million dollars more, per case, to execute someone than to give them life without possibility of parole. Just hang em, just shoot em? Yeah, never mind that Constitution. A deterrent? Wrong again. Texas has by far more executions that any other state, yet has higher rates of violent crime. How many people on death row have been cleared of the crime with dna evidence or other circumstances? Once someone is dead, theyre gone folks. Remember, the innocent person that is put to death is someones father, mother, son, daughter. It coulkd be you or yours.

  24. Ed McGuinnes Jan. 21 at 7:04 pm

    I think the republicans need to take this issue on and make it part of their wedge strategy in the upcoming elections.

    John Boehner could even self administer his own execution and tell us afterwards how it went.

  25. Bridget Jan. 21 at 7:38 pm

    I think Jared Laughner should go spend time with Deb and her family–and everyone else who doesn’t think that there is pure evil in this world that does NOT deserve to live among us (and on our dime, to boot).

  26. Daniel Jan. 21 at 7:46 pm

    Ed McGuinnes 7:04 pm

    “John Boehner could even self administer his own execution and tell us afterwards how it went.”

    It is so sad that you have to make this into a political issue. Even sadder that you suggest that the person third in line to the presidency should commit suicide. Shame on the Chicago Tribune for allowing this. Whomever is sitting on the other side that allowed this to get through and stay up is clearly showing their bias because something like this regarding Obama would never get through, and it shouldn’t.

  27. Jim Jan. 21 at 8:03 pm

    Is there a problem with returning to death by firing squad?

  28. Dave Jan. 21 at 8:13 pm

    These Italians with their moral outrage! They should be more concerned that EVERY mobster on the FBI flow chart was of Italian extraction!

  29. Tea Party Patriot Jan. 21 at 8:31 pm

    So, just go back to the firing squad and hanging. You don’t need any fancy drugs for that. Just a few bullets and a good rope.

  30. Tea Party Patriot Jan. 21 at 8:39 pm

    The definition of an immoral society is one that cares more about brutal murderous beast having to experience the least tiny bit of discomfort and totally ignore the unbelievable pain and suffering they inflict on the victims. Show me someone who cares about the horror and excruciating pain and possible torture these beasts victims went through before death at their hands! There is NO ONE ! But just look at the all fawning all over the murderers. Oh, Lord, if a heinous multiple murderer would feel the wee tinies bit of discomfort during execution, they would all cry for weeks and have to go to counseling to get over it. America IS an immoral nation. The drug companies refuse to make the anesthetics to put away murderers but have no problem manufacturing drugs to carry out the thousands of ABORTIONS performed daily in the U.S. When murderers are loved more than babies in any country, then you have an IMMORAL nation no matter how you cut it !

  31. Chris Jan. 21 at 9:00 pm

    Take them out back and shoot them, i’ll chip in for a case of rounds at Wal-Mart. Forget all these lengthy court battles. If your shirt is not tucked in and you are not well groomed at the time of arrest, you are guilty and should be executed. End of story.

  32. irishace Jan. 21 at 9:08 pm

    Everything always comes down to abortions with you teabagging wingnuts, don’t it? A clump of cells becomes people, you won’t help them live AFTER they’re born,and you absolutely refuse to say what legal remedy to put upon women who have them. The Tea Party would have been a lot stronger without your religious holier-than-thou wingers. And yet you condone the murder of doctors and nurses. Go back to the middle ages and call off your old tired ethics.

  33. Brunchie Jan. 23 at 10:50 a.m.

    I am neither conservative or liberal, just Christian. I admit, in one point in my history, justice to me was doing to killer exactly what had been done to the victims, especially when people were commiting heinous crimes like the aforementioned Gacy and Dahmer. The Judeo-Christian heritage that I come from, at one point in history stoned disrespectful children and adulterers. Then, as I heard about so many people freed from DNA evidence and they were disproportionately of color, I felt more uncomfortable with quick executions. I’m especially leary when there’s witnessless crimes or where witness testimony is questionable. In Laughner’s case, it was undisputable that he was the shooter. Too many people saw him, but what about when they just find a dead body in a field and the police, in order to close the case quickly, just pick up somebody who seems weird, who has a record, etc? It is the prosecutor’s job to prove beyond a shadow of a THAT person committed the crime and a good defender to hold that prosecutor to that standard. I am certainly all for the victim’s families to have some closure and feel like the right person is behind bars and being excecuted, but what if a quick sentencing results in the wrong person and the right person is still out there doing what they do? Remember the Brown’s Chicken massacre? Two people were accused of doing the crime but they were cleared. Another person was eventually sentenced but the defenders still have questions about whether it’s an airtight case. If it took over decade to gather stronger evidence that there was actually a different person guilty of the crime, is it right for the defenders (as long as it’s ethical) to spend their time (even decades) trying to prove their client’s innocence. Wouldn’t you want that for yourself if you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

  34. Centurion Jan. 23 at 4:50 pm

    Oh gee, no pentothal for lethal injections! OK, so, the electric chair still works. Or, build the 13 steps to the gallows and they can hang em high