COLUMBIA — It is not yet known whether a national shortage of a drug used in the lethal injection cocktail will affect executions in Missouri.
The drug, known as Pentothal, is the anesthetic used in the process of lethal injection. Hospira, the global pharmaceutical company that produces the drug, has confirmed that the anesthetic will not be available until early next year.
"Due to a supply issue with Pentothal's active pharmaceutical ingredient, which is supplied by a third party, Hospira's product is currently unavailable," Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said in a statement Friday.
Meanwhile, Hospira said it does not condone the use of Pentothal in executions.
"The drug is not indicated for capital punishment, and Hospira does not support its use in this procedure," Rosenberg said.
Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine would not say whether Missouri would be affected by the Pentothal shortage, which has already delayed at least two executions in Kentucky, according to news reports.
But Lapine said the department is prepared for the execution of Roderick Nunley scheduled for Oct. 20. If the execution proceeds as planned, Nunley would be only the second person to be executed in Missouri since early 2006.
"All I can tell you is we are able to proceed with our upcoming execution," Lapine said.
In executions, Pentothal is administered to render the prisoner unconscious before an injection of pancuronium bromide is used to stop the breathing and cause paralysis. Potassium chloride then stops the heart and causes death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Hospira is the only manufacturer of Pentothal in the United States.
The shortage comes after four years of legal uncertainty over the administration of the lethal injection cocktail in Missouri.
Executions were halted in Missouri in 2006 after a surgeon responsible for administering the lethal injection procedure testified during court discovery that he was dyslexic and had on occasion altered the doses of the three drugs in an ad hoc manner.
The surgeon had sometimes halved the dosage of anesthetic from the recommended five grams prior to injecting the other two drugs, which are believed to cause great pain for the prisoner if he is still conscious, according to court documents.
Missouri then adopted a written protocol for implementing the drug, which was aimed at safeguarding against future violations of prisoners' constitutional rights of protection against undue suffering.
Subsequent litigation and appeals surrounding the issue held up executions in Missouri — barring one exception — until June, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal and effectively cleared the way for executions to resume.