Death Sentences Postponed Over Anesthesia Drug Shortage?

08 Mar

We recently told you about the concerns over pain killng drug shortages. The issue is serious enough to have been addressed in Congress. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced legislation that would give the FDA the ability to require early notification from pharmaceutical companies when an issue may arise that could cause a shortage.

The next development continues to grow dire as 13 states are jointly requesting help from the federal government on how to acquire the anesthetic sodium thiopental. However, the states’ requests aren’t based on saving lives; it’s for ending them. Sodium thiopental is used as part of a lethal execution drug, however it is also used for brief surgical procedures. The shortage may force states to postpone executions. There have also been situations where states have sought alternatives, such as in Oklahoma where they used an anesthetic commonly used to euthanize animals to execute a prisoner.

Oregon is one of the 13 states that is signing the letter to the federal government. The other states signing the letter are Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

While the headlines are being dominated by the need for this drug in the justice system, what can’t be lost is that a shortage of anesthesia drugs has serious life-changing implications in the medical world.

"Never before have the shortages of key drugs been so prevalent," says Sheldon S. Sones, RPh, FASCP, president of Sheldon S. Sones and Associates, a pharmacy and accreditation consulting firm based in Newington, Connecticut. "While the best strategy is to keep as far ahead of anticipated supply needs as possible, borrowing non-controlled drugs may be an option."

Sometimes shortages are sudden and unpredictable, which is all the more reason that the drug shortage needs to be addressed on a national level, whether through legislation or other means.

Another reason is that, while some states are importing drugs like thiopental, there is uncertaintly about its safeness. Unfortunately, the messenger of this concern right now is a group of death row inmates who are suing to have the imported drugs halted. While the messengers may not be popular, the message is something worth considering.