SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) — A nationwide shortage of the drug used for lethal injection has forced Arizona to get supplies from outside the U.S., a move that California may soon follow.
The limited supply has directly affected executions in California, along with Kentucky and Oklahoma, and may affect executions in Missouri, which says its supply of sodium thiopental expires in January.
California officials say they acquired a dosage of 12 grams in September with a 2014 expiration date. But there was some dispute about the source. Hospira said its remaining supplies expire next year and California could only have obtained it elsewhere.
CBS News chief legal analyst Andrew Cohen joins KNX 1070’s Jack Popejoy
Experts say using non-U.S. suppliers raises questions about the effectiveness of the drug. But it also may further complicate executions in the 35 states that allow them, as inmates challenge the use of drugs not approved by federal inspectors for use in the U.S.
Arizona said Tuesday that it got its sodium thiopental from Great Britain, the first time a state has acknowledged obtaining the drug from outside the United States since the shortage began
slowing executions in the spring.
“This drug came from a reputable place,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Tim Nelson said. “There’s all sorts of wild speculation that it came from a third-world country, and that’s not accurate.”
Nelson said the state revealed the drug’s origins to let the public know that its supply is trustworthy and to dispel rumors.
However, he did not name the company that manufactured it.
Without assurances of the drug’s quality, many questions will be raised, including its effectiveness and how it should be handled, and would serve as a basis for lawsuits, said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University.
“The impact could be huge,” Denno said. “The source of the thiopental is critical.”
Tuesday night, Arizona executed Jeffrey Landrigan for a 1989 murder in the state’s first execution since 2007. Landrigan died by injection at a state prison in Florence at 10:26 p.m. after a stay issued by a federal judge was lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Landrigan’s lawyers had argued he could be suffocated painfully if the sodium thiopental doesn’t render him unconscious. In lethal injections, sodium thiopental makes an inmate unconscious before a second drug paralyzes him and a third drug stops his heart.
Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., the sole U.S. manufacturer of the drug, has blamed the shortage on unspecified problems with its raw-material suppliers and said new batches will not be available until January at the earliest.
There are no FDA-approved overseas manufacturers of the drug.
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