• "Right to die" drug in short supply

    By: Deborah Horne

    Updated:

    No matter where in Washington state you go, you cannot find the drug of choice for the terminally ill who want a legal way to die. 

     “The pentobarbital supply has dried up,” said Robb Miller, who runs Compassion and Choices, the nonprofit that helped lead the fight for the popular 2006 Death with Dignity law.  

    He says those nearing the end of their lives now have something else to consider: the cost of the only other drug they can use, Seconal.

    “Yeah, we're unhappy,” said Miller. “I mean, our patients are having to pay a lot more out of pocket for the medication.”

     When it is available, pentobarbital costs about $350 a dose.  Seconal can cost $2,000 a dose -- more than five times as much. Why such a difference?

    “People using the Death with Dignity Act are sort of the unintended victims of this effort to prohibit the use of the pentobarbital for capital punishment,” he said.

    Miller contends the drug's European manufacturer has stopped exporting it to the U.S. because of opposition to the drug's use in at least two botched executions in the Southwest. But Miller says his organization is helping patients pay for the more expensive drug. 

    “We can reassure them that they are going to be able to get the medication,” he said.

    Still, Miller said they are looking for another supplier so that they can follow not just the letter of the Death with Dignity law but the spirit of the law as well.  They want to ensure the most cost-effective drug is available for this most personal and emotional of decisions.

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