Subject: Eli Lily Will Stop Making
Drug Misused in Assisted Suicides
Source: Portland Oregonian; November 13, 2001
Eli Lily Will Stop Making Drug Misused
in Assisted Suicides
Portland, OR -- Oregon doctor
Peter Rasmussen, who supports assisted
suicide, is elated that a judge's order bought him time to get lethal
prescriptions to his qualified patients under Oregon's legal assisted
suicide law. The order blocks until Nov. 20 a federal attempt to halt
But Rasmussen may now not be able to
obtain the drug to kill his patients.
Secobarbital, the short-acting sedative and drug of choice for assisted
suicide, is in short supply, and the future availability of the drug
And an alternative, a drinkable form
of pentobarbital, lacks the track
record of secobarbital, prescribed to 66 of the 70 patients reported
health officials to have been killed under Oregon's law.
"When you have something that works,
you want to stay with it. It's just
one less worry," said Rasmussen, a Salem oncologist with two patients
awaiting the medication to take their lives. "I suppose we could
an all-points bulletin for any pharmacy who has any in stock they'd
willing to transfer."
Assisted suicide advocates remain optimistic
that enough secobarbital,
trade name Seconal, will be found, at least for now. But the shortage
creates one more complication to the assisted suicide crusader's plans.
That Oregon advocates can't exactly lobby the manufacturer to make more
secobarbital so dying patients can commit suicide is emblematic of life
a maverick state with its one-of-a-kind law.
"It would be hard to imagine a
manufacturer saying, 'Yeah, we're going to
ramp up production on something so that the Oregon Death With Dignity
can prevail.' Not a real good PR shot," said Tom Holt, executive
of the Oregon State Pharmacists Association.
Indeed, Eli Lilly, manufacturer of Seconal,
and Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals,
which has marketed and distributed the drug since 1998, emphasize that
Seconal is only promoted for its federally approved uses as a sedative
a hypnotic to quell anxiety and promote sleep.
Eli Lilly has been unable to get the
raw materials to make Seconal from
its supplier and so has not been manufacturing the drug for several
months, spokeswoman Kindra Strupp said. When Eli Lilly's contract with
Jersey-based Ranbaxy runs out in January, Eli Lilly is getting out of
Seconal-making business altogether, Strupp said.
"Eli Lilly is a very innovation-driven
company," Strupp said. "We are very
interested in what's up and coming in the pipeline and meeting unmet
Ranbaxy may pick up the manufacturing
of secobarbital in January. But the
company is first sizing up the demand.
"It will be dependent on the market
requirements for this product, which
have been diminishing over time," said Chuck Caprariello, vice
of business development for Ranbaxy. "That decision has not been
Secobarbital isn't exactly a marketer's
First, it's highly addictive. Called
Reds, Red Bullets and Red Dolls on
the street, it's the kind of drug people used in the '60s and '70s to
in and drop out. Second, an overdose can be fatal. Third, the drug is
nearly 40 years old, and newer drugs with fewer risks are available.
And then the clincher: Secobarbital
is not particularly profitable. It
retails for about 65 cents per 100-milligram pill compared with $5 for
40-milligram pill of Prozac, one of Eli Lilly's top sellers.
Rasmussen wondered if the Bush administration's
opposition to assisted
suicide had any impact on Eli Lilly's decision to stop making the drug.
But Eli Lilly's Strupp said Oregon's
assisted suicide law and the federal
ruling have "no bearing" on the company's plans regarding
manufacturing of Seconal. "It was strictly a business decision,"
Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the
Compassion in Dying Federation, which
advocates patients killing themselves if they wish, said she buys that
answer. "My radar was way up. But I do not think it's any kind
of a plot,"
Lee said. "I think it's a genuine shortage."
Lee's organization hustled to get lethal
doses to six patients last
Tuesday before Ashcroft's ruling took effect, shutting down use of
Oregon's law for a day until a judge issued the temporary restraining
order. Although sufficient doses were found for them, it took some work.
"We had to coordinate among pharmacies.
Many pharmacies . . . have none,"