Some states are turning to the widely available-drug pentobarbital for use in their lethal injections, instead of sodium thiopental, which is in short supply in the U.S. But some medical professionals have noted that, although the new drug shares many similarities with sodium thiopental, pentobarbital has rarely been used in humans. Dr. David Varlotta, who sits on the board of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, said that he has not used pentobarbital since 1986. Dr. Varlotta said, “If departments of corrections are moving toward pentobarbital, they’re moving away from the expertise of anesthesiologists.” Recently, a spokesperson for Lundbeck Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of pentobarbital, said that using the drug for executions is not what the company intended and “goes against everything we’re in business to do.” Lundbeck is based in Denmark, a country that strongly opposes the death penalty. Last year, Oklahoma adopted pentobarbital as a part of its three-drug protocol, replacing sodium thiopental. Earlier this year, Ohio announced that it would use pentobarbital alone in its one-drug protocol. Among death penalty states, only South Carolina has said it is not looking at alternatives to sodium thiopental.

Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist, said he supports states using pentobarbital for executions. The biggest difference between the 2 drugs, he said, is that pentobarbital knocks out patients longer.

(G. Bluestein, “Replacement Execution Drug Ample, But Has Issues,” Associated Press, March 2, 2011). See Lethal Injection and Executions.