Tennessee moves to single-drug executions despite pentobarbital shortage


By Tim Ghianni

Sept 27 (Reuters) - Tennessee said on Friday that it willbegin to use only pentobarbital to execute death row inmatesdespite a shortage of the drug.

The state will use the single-drug lethal injection methodinstead of the three-drug method it has used in the past,according to Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswomanDorinda Carter.

"The Department of Correction had been unable to obtain thechemicals necessary to carry out an execution since 2011 due toa widespread shortage" of sodium thiopental, a drug used in thethree-drug method, Carter said.

Sodium thiopental puts the prisoner to sleep, with anotherdrug administered to paralyze the prisoner and a third to stopthe heart.

In April 2011, Tennessee was among the states that turnedover its supplies of sodium thiopental to authorities afterconcerns arose about how the supply of the drug was imported.

That move came after the company that produced sodiumthiopental had bowed to European Union pressure to stop makingthe drug, creating a shortage. The death penalty has beenabolished in all EU nations.

The sodium thiopental shortage forced U.S. states to switchto pentobarbital.

Seven states currently use pentobarbital alone forexecutions and more are planning to use it, according to RichardDieter, executive director of the Death Penalty InformationCenter, a non-profit organization that provides information oncapital punishment. Other states use it as part of thethree-stage execution process.

Pentobarbital also is commonly used during surgeries and byveterinarians to euthanize animals.

"Given it's used by veterinarians and on humans for otherpurposes, there's probably a lot out there. But if you have tomake a new order, it's hard to get for prisons," Dieter said.

Danish manufacturer Lundbeck and its American subsidiary,Akorn, are controlling the distribution of pentobarbital "andare not allowing its distribution if it is to be used forexecutions," Dieter said.

Dieter said some states that had been using pentobarbitalwere having to switch to other drugs or find new sources becauseof the shortage.

"Everybody that used (sodium thiopental) has switched andnow they may have to switch again (from pentobarbital)," Dietersaid.

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