Lethal injection: can pharma kill the death penalty?

A recent problematic execution by lethal injection has reignited the debate about the ethics of using medical products to kill. In October, Oklahoma prison inmate John Marion Grant was executed by a lethal injection. Strapped to a gurney, Grant convulsed and vomited – highly unusual for the procedure – after being given midazolam, a sedative and the first of three drugs that are usually administered for lethal injection. Grant was declared unconscious around 15 minutes after receiving the first injection and died roughly six minutes after that. Extreme shortages resulting from the EU’s and pharma companies’ anti-execution moves have seen states seek alternative supplies illicitly from overseas manufacturers , obtain them from less-than-reputable compounding facilities and manufacturers , and experiment with alternative drugs and untested combinations . Now, this botched procedure – Oklahoma’s first lethal injection in six years after a spate of flawed executions in 2014 and 2015 – h

Texas prisons must disclose execution drug details: state attorney general's office

Texas prison officials must disclose information about who supplies lethal drugs for executions and how much of the drugs the Department of Criminal Justice has on hand, the state attorney general's office ruled.

The opinion this week came in response to public information requests filed earlier in the year by the Austin American-Statesman and the British newspaper The Guardian.

Prison officials had argued that releasing the information could be harmful to employees and provide death penalty opponents with an avenue to harass the drug suppliers in the hope those firms would refuse to do business with the state.

"We find your arguments as to how disclosure of the requested drug quantities would result in the disruption of the execution process or otherwise interfere with law enforcement to be too speculative," Sean Opperman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials did not immediately respond to a phone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment. The Austin paper, which first reported about the ruling Thursday, said prison officials said they hadn't seen the opinion yet and couldn't comment on it.

The prison agency has 30 days to comply with the opinion or to challenge it in court, under state guidelines.

Opperman said that while the attorney general's office "acknowledge(s) the department's concerns," the corrections department didn't show how disclosure of the information "would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual."

Department officials have indicated they have a sufficient supply to handle upcoming executions. At least 5 so far are scheduled for Texas into the summer, including 1 early next month.

Last year Texas had to change from sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the process, when it became unavailable after its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found and pentobarbital was used as a replacement.

The physical effects of the new drug on condemned inmates have not been noticeable at executions in Huntsville but the financial cost to the state has risen considerably. Prison officials put the cost of the previous drug mixture, which also used pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, at $83.35. It's now $1286.86, with the higher cost primarily due to pentobarbital.

About 3.4 ounces of solution containing 5 grams of pentobarbital is used in the lethal injection process, followed by lethal doses of the other two drugs. In addition, the department's written procedures call for a matching set of drugs and syringes "in case unforeseen events make their use necessary."

Source: Associated Press, May 18, 2012

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