Shortage of anesthetic delays execution in Delaware

    U.S. District Court Judge Sue L. Robinson has delayed the execution of convicted ax murderer Robert W. Jackson III.

    The defense team for Jackson says a delay is needed because a new anesthetic is being used in the lethal injection process. Delaware, like many states, has been forced to switch to new anesthetic drugs. It has planned to start using Pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to euthanize animals. The drug previously used to anesthetize prisoners, sodium thiopental, is in extremely short supply throughout the United States.

    Hospira, the sole American manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced in January that it would stop manufacturing the drug. Hospira had intended to make the drug in Italy, but Italian government concerns over the drug’s use in capital punishment, forced the company to stop production.

    “Given the issues surrounding the product, including the government’s requirements and challenges bringing the drug back to market, Hospira has decided to exit the market,” the company stated in a Jan. 21 press release.

    States throughout the country have chosen a variety of ways to deal with the shortage.  Ohio executed a prisoner in March with just a single dose of pentobarbital. Other states like Delaware are planning to use the drug in place of sodium thiopental as the first in a three-step injection process. Nebraska has obtained new supplies of sodium thiopental from India.

    The Pennsylvania Board of Corrections, which hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1999, told WHYY it is reviewing its lethal injection process, but doesn’t expect any need to make a decision anytime soon.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal