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.

On Oct. 1, 2013, lawyers filed a federal lawsuit for three death row inmates saying that Texas' use of an untested drug violates their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The lawyer for death row inmate Warren Lee Hill filed a similar complaint related to Georgia's lethal drug secrecy laws.

Oklahoma's prison system said Jan. 27, that it doesn't have plans to review its lethal drug protocol after two recently executed inmates complained within seconds after being injected.

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.

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.

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.

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