Sodium thiopental, the barbiturate used to induce unconsciousness as the first step in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail, has been discontinued by it's Illinois manufacturer, Hospira, The Washington Post reports.
Hospira is, in fact, the only company in the United States that manufactures it. The drug maker was planning to move production of the drug to a facility in Italy, but authorities there stipulated that the company must ensure the drug would not find its way into the hands of an executioner. Concerned it might not be able to guarantee this, Hospira decided to discontinue the anesthetic altogether.
It was only days before the planned execution of Stephen West late last year that Tennessee received more of the drug from a supplier in England. The execution was ultimately called off by the state Supreme Court, where the justices continue to evaluate the three-drug cocktail method and whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Autopsies of several recently executed inmates, including Steve Henley, indicated alarmingly low amounts of sodium thiopental in their bodies. This sparked fears that the paralytic, pancuronium bromide, is nothing but a shroud concealing a waking, immobile hell as the potassium chloride stops the heart.
Hospira still manufactures the other two drugs in the cocktail, but the production halt could throw a wrench into planned executions in Tennessee and elsewhere. Shortages of the drug were seen last year in Kentucky, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.