Drug maker asks states not to use sedative for executions

The sole U.S. manufacturer of a sedative that Ohio plans to use to execute death row inmates — and that Oklahoma already uses to do so — said Wednesday it opposes the practice and has asked both states to stop using the drug.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The sole U.S. manufacturer of a sedative that Ohio plans to use to execute death row inmates — and that Oklahoma already uses to do so — said Wednesday it opposes the practice and has asked both states to stop using the drug.

Pentobarbital maker Lundbeck Inc. says it never intended for the drug to be used to put inmates to death.

“This goes against everything we’re in business to do,” Sally Benjamin Young, spokeswoman for the Denmark-based company’s U.S. headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois, told The Associated Press.

“We like to develop and make available therapies that improve people’s lives,” she said. “That’s the focus of our business.”

Oklahoma has used the drug in combination with two others in three executions, while Ohio announced Tuesday it is switching to the sedative as the sole drug used to put inmates to death.

Both states switched to pentobarbital as a national shortage worsened of the drug they used previously, sodium thiopental.

That drug’s sole U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc., of Illinois, deplored the drug’s use in executions and also asked states not to use it, to no avail.

“While we cannot control how our products are administered, it is our intent that our products be used in a safe and appropriate manner and encourage use consistent with the label,” the company said in a statement.

Ohio has not yet purchased its first supplies and Oklahoma has said it obtains its supply from a private pharmacy.

The company announced last week it was discontinuing the product.

Pentobarbital is a barbiturate used to induce comas during surgeries to prevent brain damage when blood flow is interrupted, and to reduce possible brain damage following strokes or head trauma. It is chemically related to the same product used to euthanize pets.

Medical experts say Ohio and Oklahoma’s dosages are so big they’re lethal by themselves.

The amount that Oklahoma uses and Ohio has proposed — 5 grams (0.18 ounces) — is 50 times the normal dosage used in hospitals, said Howard Nearman, chairman of the Anesthesiology Department at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Not only would a dosage that size stop someone’s breathing, it would also likely cause a drastic drop in blood pressure, all of which would easily lead to a person’s death, Nearman said Wednesday.

Experts who testified in a federal lawsuit trying to stop Oklahoma’s proposed switch to pentobarbital were split on the drug’s effectiveness in putting humans to death.

The size of Oklahoma’s dosage “by itself would cause death in almost everyone,” Mark Dershwitz, a University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist, said in a report submitted to a federal judge in an Oklahoma hearing last year.

“It’s a massive overdose,” Dershwitz said Wednesday in a phone interview.

A second expert testifying in Oklahoma said the lack of clinical evidence for using pentobarbital as an anesthetic raises questions about its effectiveness in capital punishment.

“The use of pentobarbital as an agent to induce anesthesia has no clinical history and is non-standard,” Harvard medical professor David Waisel told the court.

“Because of these significant unknowns, and a lack of clinical history related to using pentobarbital to induce anesthesia, using pentobarbital as part of a 3-drug lethal injection protocol puts the inmate at an undue risk of suffering.”

Waisel confirmed his comments in a follow-up phone interview Wednesday, saying there’s no way of knowing the drug’s effects.

The prisons department said it will use its remaining supply of sodium thiopental for the scheduled execution Feb. 17 of Frank Spisak, who killed three people at Cleveland State University in 1982.

The first use of pentobarbital is planned for March’s scheduled execution of Johnnie Baston, condemned to die for shooting the owner of a store in the back of the head during a 1994 robbery.

The drug has been used in 200 of the 525 assisted suicides in Oregon since 1998, according to data compiled by the Oregon Public Health Division. It also was prescribed for 5 of 47 assisted-suicide patients in Washington state in 2009, state health statistics show.

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