Euthanasia drug shortage elsewhere worries local vets : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Euthanasia drug shortage elsewhere worries local vets

Monday, April 10, 2000


The Flint area so far has escaped an emerging shortage in an animal euthanasia drug that is triggering panic elsewhere.

But if the manufacturer of sodium pentobarbitol does not resume production soon, said some area officials, a crisis could arise locally.

"Without (sodium pentobarbitol), I'm lost," said Jeffrey B. Pinkston, a Swartz Creek veterinarian. "... Without it, we're all at a loss. We don't know what to do."

Pinkston said other drugs could euthanize animals humanely, but he and many other veterinarians have no experience with them.

Alternatives might require a two-step procedure of anesthesia followed by injection, he said, and might pose a danger to handlers.

Shelters and veterinarians rely almost exclusively on pentobarbitol to euthanize animals because of its low cost, speed, effectiveness at low dosage, safe handling characteristics and reliability in sparing animal suffering.

Except for the Shiawassee County Animal Shelter, which practices asphyxiation with carbon dioxide gas chambers but plans to switch to injections, area shelters put animals to sleep with a shot of pentobarbitol, a powerful tranquilizer.

But Ganes Chemical Works of Pennsfield, N.J., the only manufacturer of the raw chemical for animal use, curtailed production in December because inspections by the federal Food and Drug Administration in 1998 and 1999 revealed flaws in sterility safeguards on the production line.

Production eventually ended altogether - a step Ganes described as necessary to achieve permanent compliance with federal guidelines, company Vice President Michael Pavlak said.

Pavlak said he expects Ganes to resume shipments by early May. That could be too late for customers of Vortech.

Veterinary facilities nationwide now are reporting dwindling supplies and have begun contemplating a return to carbon monoxide gas chambers, a method many consider inhumane.

"There is none (of the drug) to be had," said Dayna Foster, Warren County (Va.) Humane Society director.

She said she called drug distributors as far away as California.

"I have one bottle (of pentobarbitol) left" and no intention of using carbon monoxide when that runs out," she said, adding that the gas chamber is "very slow."

"I do perform euthanasia here, but the only way I could do it and sleep at night is the lethal injection."

Dearborn-based Vortech Pharmaceuticals, which produces most of the nation's pentobarbitol-based euthanasia solution, began rationing its drug, Fatal Plus, in December, said President John A. MacNeil.

Vortech, which MacNeil said produces 80 percent of the nation's pentobarbitol drug supply and 90 percent of Michigan's, is down to a two-week supply, he said.

MacNeil, who said he developed the pentobarbitol-based solution 30 years ago after watching a pet dog suffer during euthanasia with another drug, said he is negotiating with federal officials for a temporary emergency supply. If those officials don't relent, he said, "it's going to be absolute chaos."

If they do, he said, "we'll have to work around the clock to get the raw material produced." Vortech is restricting sales to regular customers, MacNeil said.

Area animal shelter managers said they were unaware of the problem.

"It would be horrible if there were really a shortage," said Bradley M. Billings, manager of the Humane Society of Genesee County. "The sick and injured, they would have to suffer. If you can't put them down, what can you do?"

He said his facility has about one month's supply of Fatal Plus. Should that run out, he said, the shelter's animal population would probably reach capacity in a day to two. The shelter, which places 4,000 to 6,000 pets in new homes each year, euthanizes about 4,000 animals annually.

The Genesee County Animal Shelter, which finds owners for about 1,000 animals a year and euthanizes another 9,000, has a two- to three-month supply of Fatal Plus, Director Lloyd C. Gerhardt said.

Lapeer County Animal Control Director Walter L. Rodabaugh said he has several months of Fatal Plus. His shelter typically euthanizes 1,400 animals a year.

The Shiawassee Humane Society, which normally euthanizes 150 to 200 of its 800 animals, has enough of the chemical to last years, Manager Sandra L. Wright said.

Several area veterinarians said they have enough Fatal Plus or competing brands to last weeks or months and would have to research alternatives if those run dry.

John Snyder, Humane Society of the United States program director, estimated that up to 3,500 animal shelters could be affected by the drug shortfall. He said up to 6 million pets are euthanized in U.S. shelters annually.

Jerry Ernst covers Shiawassee County. He can be reached at (517) 725-3112 or (810) 766-6197. Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 10, 2000

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