Drug shortage throws US executions into disarray

The shortage has already forced postponement of lethal injection executions across US.

Washington: In the midst of a drug shortage that has already forced postponement of lethal injection executions across the United States, some states say they now have the drug in hand but are refusing to disclose its origin.

The unprecedented situation has been compounded by an inmate scheduled to die on Tuesday but who is suing to stop his own execution, arguing that the drug which the state of Arizona intends to use may be counterfeit or unsafe.

Only one pharmaceutical company in the United States, Hospira, currently manufactures the drug, the anaesthetic sodium thiopental.

But it is out of stock and will not be able to resume production until the first quarter of 2011, and Hospira`s most recent batch is nearing its 2011 expiration date.

Some states like Texas and Ohio have enough thiopental to carry on with their execution schedules, but others like Kentucky have been forced to put capital punishment on hold.

"In this country we are so used to having executions, it makes legislators nervous" when they are halted, Deborah Denno, a criminal law professor at Fordham University in New York, said.

"The more you delay, the more people realise that the death penalty doesn`t serve the purpose it`s supposed to serve."

The drug delay has caused some hiccups in the US capital punishment system.

The central state of Oklahoma has borrowed doses of the drug from its neighbour Arkansas.

More surprisingly, California and Arizona announced early this month they have procured thiopental and intend to carry out lethal injections, according to court documents. But prison authorities of both states refused to say where they had purchased the product.

For the lawyers for Arizona death-row inmate Jeffrey Landrigan, a convicted murderer scheduled to die next Tuesday, that raised enough questions about the safety and efficiency of the drug to bring the matter to court.

"Landrigan faces a significant risk that Arizona Department of Corrections unknowingly has obtained counterfeit or non-viable drug," they argued in a petition before the Arizona Supreme Court.

"If the second or third drugs in the state`s protocol, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, were to be injected into a prisoner who was not properly anesthetised, the result would be excruciating pain in violation of the (US Constitution`s) eighth amendment" which bars cruel and unusual punishment, they said.

"Accordingly, Landrigan needs information from the state to insure that sodium thiopental used in his execution is chemically stable and has not expired."