It takes five grams of sodium thiopental for each execution and the Department of Corrections only has 7 1/2 grams on hand.
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The shortage does not surprise Santa Clara University Law School Professor Ellen Kreitzberg.
“My understanding from the manufacturer is that they will not have any more of the drug until after the beginning of 2011,” she said. “Other states, like Kentucky have had to put their executions on hold because they do not have any of the dosage. All the doses they have have already expired and they have no ability to access any new, fresh doses of this particular drug.”
Kreitzberg said protocol calls for a backup dose of five grams if there’s a problem with the original dosage.
As it turns out, sodium thiopental is another name for sodium pentothal, which was widely used (in smaller dosage) as an inhibition-lowering "truth serum" in police interrogations, and still used on occasion for this purpose, such as in this Indian case. In 2002, former CIA chief William Webster suggested to revive its usage in the US by administering it to interrogated Guantanamo detainees, but the US denies having done so. In small dosages (a few milligrams) it is in use as a general anesthetic. In countries that allow euthanasia, such as the Netherlands, it is used in conjunction with another chemical to induce a coma.