Notable Anesthesiologists Discuss Effects of Different Lethal Injection Drugs

Several notable anesthesiologists discussed the difference between sodium thiopental, a drug traditionally used in lethal injections, and a three-drug cocktail containing pentobarbital, according to a New York Times report.

According to the report, the two drugs originate from the barbiturate family, a group of drugs that depress the central nervous system. Pentobarbital is more frequently used to anesthetize or euthanize animals and has also been used in physician-assisted suicide, while sodium thiopental is more commonly used as a hospital anesthetic.

According to Scott Segal, MD, chairman of the department of anesthesiology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, both drugs cross the blood-brain barrier very efficiently and enter the brain tissue, where receptors respond to a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid. If you give enough of any barbiturate to a human, the heart stops pumping as hard and the patient stops breathing, said Mark A. Warner, MD, president of the ASA.

Despite their similarities, the two drugs have slightly different effects. Sodium thiopental has a fast onset and lasts a shorter amount of time, whereas pentobarbital is a long-acting drug.

Read the New York Times report on lethal injection drugs.

Read more on anesthesia:

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-FDA Report: Benzocaine Sprays Associated With Methemoglobinemia

-Fentanyl Effective Alternative to Anesthesia for ROP Laser Therapy


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