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Will Loss of Lethal Injection Drug Harm Surgical Patients?
Date:1/29/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Anesthesiologists say they have grave concerns over a decision by a drug manufacturer to halt production of a long-used and powerful anesthetic because of the medication's use in lethal injections in prison executions.

Hospira, of Lake Forest, Ill., had intended to produce Pentothal (sodium thiopental) at its plant in Italy, but abandoned that plan last week when authorities there demanded that the drug not be used for executions in America.

There are no other sources of Pentothal available to American physicians, and experts noted that while there are newer anesthetics on the market, Pentothal is a safer alternative for certain patients because it does not lower blood pressure as drastically as its newer counterparts do.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) issued a statement saying that its members are "extremely troubled" that they will no longer have access to Pentothal, which has been used in preoperative sedation since the 1940s.

"We've seen the fairly sudden disappearance of a very common and popular drug," said ASA president-elect Dr. Jerry Cohen, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. "It's a drug we would be better off having because it serves certain numbers of our patients, and we put them at higher risk when we use alternatives. This is going to be a real problem for safety."

Pentothal used to be the most widely used drug for preoperative medication, but has been superseded by newer anesthetics such as propofol and etomidate, explained Bona E. Benjamin, director of medication-use quality improvement for the practice development division of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

However, Pentothal is often preferred for certain types of patients, usually because it does not cause blood pressure to drop as severely for an extended period
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