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Saturday, Dec 04, 2021
Outlook.com
pharmaceuticals: controversy

Hawking Poison

Desperate US prisons look for lethal drugs from India. Should we market death?

Hawking Poison
Photo-imaging by Ashish Bagchi
Hawking Poison
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Sodium Thiopental

  • What Short-acting barbiturate used as an anaesthetic. First of a standard three-drug protocol used in the United States to execute prisoners sentenced to death. Lethal dose (up to 5 grams) used to render prisoner unconscious, after which a paralytic and a toxic agent injected in sequence.
  • Why Shortage of sodium thiopental in the US after sole domestic supplier, shut production in 2009, citing lack of raw materials. Demand low, outside of prisons in the US.
  • How Initially, US prisons able to import it from Britain, but ban imposed by Britain, other European countries, after human rights groups protest. Mainstream drug companies reluctant to supply. Therefore, some prisons are turning to India.

***

It all started with a mundane phonecall in August, received by the Noida office of a Swiss-Indian drug company called Naari. The caller, a Calcutta-based Indian businessman called Chris Harris, wanted samples of a drug called sodium thiopental to dispatch, he explained, to Zambia for registration by the country’s drug authorities. It was a perfectly plausible request. The drug, though largely replaced by better anaesthetics in the West, is still used widely in the developing world. Accordingly, Naari dipped into its stocks and sent vials containing 485 grams of sodium thiopental to Harris in Calcutta in end-September; and waited for the large order that he said would follow.

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