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State asks pharmacies about death-penalty drug


The Associated Press

DENVER – Having executed just one prisoner in 45 years, the Colorado Department of Corrections now is searching for a source for the drugs needed to carry out the sentence for the state’s longest-serving death-row inmate.

Department Director Tom Clements sent a letter to 97 compounding pharmacies Tuesday asking if they could acquire sodium thiopental or other equally or more effective drugs, The Denver Post reported. The letter was prompted after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals by death-row inmate Nathan Dunlap.

Dunlap, who killed four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993, could become the first inmate executed in the state since 1997. Before Gary Lee Davis’ execution that year, Colorado had not executed an inmate since 1967.

Corrections officials have said they never stockpile sodium thiopental because the state would have to spend money to replenish the drugs each time they expire.

State law requires the department to carry out executions with a “lethal quantity of sodium thiopental or other equally or more effective substance sufficient to cause death.”

Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., manufactured the drug at its plant in Italy but stopped in 2011 amid concerns it could be held liable by Italian authorities for the drug’s use in executions in the U.S. The company said it did not condone using the drug, which primarily is used as an anesthetic in surgeries, for executions.

Compounding pharmacies are capable of making sodium thiopental onsite, but it’s unclear if they would want to, said Dr. Peter Rice, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy.

“For some health-care professionals, it would violate the ‘do no harm’ principle,” Rice said.

States that use lethal injection and that have used sodium thiopental have considered other similar drugs, such as propofol. The Department of Corrections said it also is looking into the availability of pentobarbital, which has been found by courts to be a suitable alternative to sodium thiopental.

Dunlap could file additional appeals, but they would not be guaranteed to stall his execution by lethal injection. He also may petition Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who is wrestling with his position on the death penalty, for clemency.

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