Secret Drugs for Executions in America


Published on - The shortage of a conventionally used lethal injection drug has resulted in some US states turning to untested drugs from unreliable sources that do not cause death instantly.

Published in: News & Politics
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Secret Drugs for Executions in America

  1. 1. Secret Drugs for Executions in America The shortage of a conventionally used lethal injection drug has resulted in some US states turning to untested drugs from unreliable sources that do not cause death instantly. Capital punishment by lethal injection in the United States always seemed to be a straightforward thing, but not anymore. The conventionally approved lethal injection drugs have been short supply for a few years now, and states are using untested alternatives that may bring about pain and suffering during the execution process. The alarming fact is that these states have even been covering up the details regarding their drug procurement, not revealing what the drug alternatives are and the agencies they’ve procured them from. Agonizing deaths have been reported in a few states and the situation just keeps getting murkier. Thiopental Stoppage Started it All It all started with the sudden shortage of the conventionally used anesthetic thiopental the production of which was stopped in 2011 by Hospira, the American pharmaceutical firm. It was then imported by the departments of corrections of various states before federal courts prohibited the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) from allowing their import. Some states began sourcing pentobarbital instead of thiopental, but then its Danish manufacturer Lundbeck made the drug unavailable for the purpose of executions since it did not want its corporate name to be tied up with capital punishment. Most states were then left with the option of sourcing pentobarbital from the compounding pharmacies that mix drugs to create products which do not have FDA approval. And this is when the trouble started. Agonizing Deaths of Inmates In Missouri, William Rousan, a 57-year-old convict, was executed in April using a ‘secret drug’. In January, Oklahoma prison inmate Michael Lee Wilson using pentobarbital did not result in instant death - it caused a burning sensation, causing Wilson to cry out in pain before he died. That’s not how lethal injection executions are supposed to be. The injection of pentobarbital should result in the person losing consciousness and awareness till the onset of death. This suggests that the compounding pharmacy charged with supplying pentobarbital did not supply the right drug or supplied a flawed product. The suspected supplier is supposed to have supplied pentobarbital for the flawed execution of Christopher Sepulvado in Louisiana on February 5. However, this pharmacy has not been licensed to sell drugs in either of these states or even in Missouri which is suspected of sourcing its lethal injection drug from that pharmacy.
  2. 2. Problems from Midazolam and Hydromorphone Some states have resorted to the use of a midazolam and hydromorphone mixture, but even this has caused problems. The early January execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio is a case in point. After being injected with the combination of midzolam and hydromorphone, McGuire experienced breathing trouble for around 10 minutes and choked and snorted. There was a heaving of his stomach and chest and his left hand was clenched tight all through the ordeal. It took well over 15 minutes for McGuire to die. Inmates Demand to Know These unpleasant incidents have resulted in lawsuits filed by death row inmates against the authorities demanding that they need to know the drugs that would be used for their execution. Recently, states including Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee have passed more and more secrecy laws preventing the public from knowing the execution drugs used and the pharmacies supplying them. These laws enable states to conveniently conceal vital information regarding how the drugs work to cause death and whether they do so humanely. The hiding of information also extends to the way the states have obtained their execution drugs and whether that was done in a legitimate manner. States Usually Win With such a major legal roadblock to tackle, prisoners have faced an uphill struggle to get their demands met. This was evident in two recent execution lawsuits in Texas. As per precedent, the state was required to reveal the source of its execution drugs. One of the executions was halted by a federal judge till the state disclosed the supplier, only for the state’s Department of Criminal Justice to file an appeal and win it for the executions to go ahead. The Supreme Court chose not to intervene. Minor Victory for Inmates In Oklahoma though, a trial court ruled that that state’s secrecy law was in violation of the rights of access of the state Constitution to the courts. In Louisiana, federal courts ordered information about the drugs to be used in a forthcoming execution to be revealed along with data regarding their testing. These minor victories are the result of efficient work by attorneys representing the death row inmates. Their efficiency would also have been the result of outsourced solutions such as efficient legal transcription services. Inmates have one major support in terms of the Eighth Amendment which clearly states that the means of carrying out capital punishment must be effectively scrutinized to ensure that they cause death in a painless and humane manner. However, for this matter to be fully sorted out the shortage of the tried and tested execution drugs has to be addressed.