U.S. company to stop making drug used in executions

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The only U.S. company to make a drug used in lethal injections said on Friday it had decided to halt production permanently because it was unable to guarantee it would not be used in executions in the United States.

The death chamber at California's San Quentin State Prison, 18 miles (29 km) north of San Francisco, California is shown in this undated file photograph. REUTERS/California Department of Corrections/Handout

Lake Forest, Illinois-based Hospira Inc said it would stop making sodium thiopental, a sedative legally required in all lethal injections of U.S. death row inmates but which has been in short supply in the United States for more than a year.

Hospira had been working to ramp up production at its plant in Liscate, Italy, but Adams said the Italian parliament wanted the company to ensure that it would not be used by U.S. corrections officials in executions.

Italy is a member of the European Union, which has banned the death penalty and regularly criticizes the United States for allowing executions.

“We’ve decided we’re no longer going to work to bring the drug back,” Tareta Adams, a spokeswoman for Hospira, said in a telephone interview.

The move could slow the pace of U.S. executions.

Adams said that Hospira was not able to issue the guarantee to the Italian lawmakers because it typically distributes the product through wholesalers, making it difficult to control where it ended up.

Continuing to produce the drug could have put the company’s Italian plant and its 200 employees at risk, Adams said.

Sodium thiopental is the first of a sequence of three drugs administered in U.S. lethal injections that paralyze breathing and stop the heart.

“This is not how the drug is intended to be used,” Adams said.

The company said in a statement that halting production of the drug would mean that hospital customers who used the drug for medical reasons would not be able to obtain it.

“We’ve been working to get it back because of the medical use,” Adams said.

The drug is an older anesthetic and doctors who used it for medical purposes had already turned to substitutes because of its scarcity.

At least two U.S. states that execute inmates through lethal injection have tried to import sodium thiopental from an unnamed British company, a move that opponents of capital punishment have tried to block.

Oklahoma executed a man in December using pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals, in addition to a sedative for humans.

A majority of U.S. states have the death penalty, with lethal injection used as the primary method of execution in most cases.

Editing by Paul Simao