Death Penalty Drugs: From Three to One
A shortage of pancuronium bromide forced the state to abandon the three-drug cocktail it has used to execute prisoners since 1982. But another drug has surfaced that will do the job.
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For the first time in the 482 executions that Texas has performed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982, the state will not use a three-drug cocktail. The state was forced to make a change because there is a shortage of pancuronium bromide, one of the drugs used in the cocktail. Now, the state will administer a single, lethal dose of the barbiturate, pentobarbital.
The Associated Press reports that Texas will become the fifth state, after Arizona, Idaho, Ohio (the first state to exclusively utilize a pentobarbital), and Washington, to move to single-drug executions. According to TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark, the department did not believe that it would need to alter the dose of the drug to account for the change to the system.
A few weeks ago, the Guardian and the Austin American-Statesman reported that an open record request revealed that the state had been stockpiling the execution drug for months. Mike Ward, of the Statesman, found that the state had made about $50,000 worth of purchases last spring from a U.S.-based supplier of pentobarbital.
Ward also wrote that after Attorney General Greg Abbott struck down the TDCJ’s request to keep this information private, the department conceded that they had purchased vials of Nembutal, a brand name for pentobarbital, from a South Carolina-based drug supplier. As other states scrambled to pull together enough drugs for their supply, Texas watched. He writes:
Texas appeared to get a head start on other states by buying the drugs when supplies were still available. By the summer of 2011, the domestic supplies had mostly dried up — and the other states were left hunting for pentobarbital in places such as England and Pakistan.
[In May], the Texas agency, which operates the busiest death chamber in the United States, confirmed that it had enough lethal drugs on hand to carry out as many as 23 executions—and that it does not prepare backup doses of the three drugs, as officials previously had said state policy requires.
The move to a single-dose execution is a short-term fix to the problem of shortage, but as Ward also points out, Lundbeck, the European makers of Nembutal, have disallowed it from use in executions and making the drug difficult to procure.
For now, Texas has nine executions scheduled through November, but TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said that the state will be able to perform them all. Yokamon Hearne is scheduled to be executed on July 18, and the AP reports that it is unclear at this time whether or not his attorneys will use this situation to file and objection.