Germany urges death drug firms to shun US orders

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Germany's health minister has urged the country's drug manufacturers not to sell sodium thiopental to the United States, where it is used for lethal injection executions, his ministry said Saturday.

The move came after the sole US manufacturer of the drug announced Friday it would quit the market, raising new questions about states' ability to carry out capital punishment.

Minister Philipp Roesler had written to German laboratories making sodium thiopental and the industry's marketing association, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported earlier, quoting extracts from his letter.

Illinois-based Hospira said in a statement Friday it "will exit the market and no longer attempt to resume production of its product, Pentothal."

The company said it had intended to make Pentothal at its Italian plant but that the Italian authorities had insisted "that we control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment."

It said, however, that "we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures," which could expose the company to liability,

Several US states have been forced to postpone executions because of a lack of sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic essential to the cocktail of lethal drugs administered to condemned inmates.

But Arizona has imported the drug from Britain, sparking a row in Europe, where all countries have ended the death penalty.

Oklahoma has used pentobarbital, a drug normally employed to euthanise animals, as a substitute in two executions.

The last doses of sodium thiopental made by Hospira are nearing their expiration dates, which could pose issues in states active in capital punishment including Texas and Ohio.

© 2011 AFP

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