States running out of lethal injection drugs seek alternatives

U.S. -

After recently running out of supplies of pentobarbital, some states have obtained the lethal injection drug from compound pharmacies or are experimenting with untested drug combos.

Circa News

Pharmaceutical companies worldwide have boycotted the sale of drugs used for executions to U.S. prison systems in recent years. Alternatives like the gas chamber or electric chair would be problematic for states and could "raise the spectacle" level, according to death penalty expert Richard Dieter.

Compounding pharmacies aren't subject to FDA regulation, raising concerns about drug contamination. Lawyers for inmates allege pentobarbital can cause a possibly painful and prolonged death. Several states, including Georgia, have enacted secrecy laws around the origins of their lethal drugs.

Shortages of lethal injection drugs in the U.S. are largely due to the European Union having banned the export of such products in 2005 as part of its goal to abolish the death penalty, the AP reports. The EU banned selling pentrobarbital and other lethal injection drugs in 2011.

"In the application of the death penalty in this country we have seen significant problems: racial bias, uneven application… as a society we have to ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions." President Barack Obama

The president spoke publicly about a botched Oklahoma execution for the first time on May 2 at the White House Rose Garden, calling it "deeply troubling." Obama said he would discuss both the Oklahoma execution and the larger issue of executions in the U.S. with Attorney General Eric Holder.

Ohio executed convicted killer Dennis McGuire at 10:53am local time on Jan. 16 by a two-drug lethal injection combination never before tried in the U.S. Witnesses said McGuire took 25 "agonizing" minutes to die after receiving the injection.

At 3:49pm MT on July 23, Arizona's attorney general issued a statement saying death row inmate Joseph R. Wood had died, about 2 hours after his execution began. Lawyers for Wood had filed an emergency request to stay his execution, saying that an hour after the execution began, Wood was still alive and "gasping and snorting."

Missouri had considered reinstating the gas chamber to continue its executions, but on Oct. 22, 2013, announced it too would use a private compounding pharmacy to obtain pentobarbital supplies. Arkansas has pursued the use of an execution drug not approved by the FDA.

The state of Florida first used an untested lethal injection drug to execute an inmate on Oct. 15, 2013, raising ethical concerns over the possibility of a painful, drawn-out death. The state has since used the same drug cocktail to execute three other death row inmates.

Louisiana's Department of Corrections is staying the execution of Christopher Sepulvado, which had been scheduled for Feb. 5, for at least 90 days after the state was unable to obtain pentobarbital, its primary drug for lethal injections. The state is using a different controversial drug combo instead.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on May 22 signed a bill that permits use of the electric chair in instances when lethal injection drugs aren't available. States have been grappling with shortages of lethal injection drugs, some of which are controversial.

A Wyoming judiciary committee on May 23 asked staff to write up a bill that would allow the state to use the firing squad as a fallback mode of execution in the event that the state runs out of lethal injection ingredients.

Texas prison officials said March 19 they had found a new supply of lethal injection drugs to carry out scheduled executions after their current batch expires in April. The prison system refuses to name its supplier, despite previous rulings by the Texas attorney general's office that require transparency.

Arizona's attorney general issued a statement July 23 saying inmate Joseph Wood had died, about 2 hours after his execution began. Lawyers for Wood had filed an emergency request to stay his execution, saying that an hour after the execution began, Wood was still alive and "gasping and snorting."

Georgia's Supreme Court ruled May 19 that the state can keep the source of its execution drugs secret, reversing a lower court ruling.

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