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January 4, 2016

Noting Alabama's notable struggles to secure various execution drugs

This lengthy local article, headlined "Court records show pharmacists refused death penalty drugs," reports on the various difficulties experienced by the Cotton State in an effort to get the chemical tools it needs to get its machinery of death running again.  Here are some details:

At the height of Alabama’s search for lethal injection drugs, state officials were turned down by every pharmacy they contacted for help, according to court records filed Wednesday.  State officials asked every licensed compounding pharmacist in Alabama to make batches of pentobarbital — once the primary drug used to kill inmates — and all refused.  Attempts to buy the drug from four other states also failed, court documents state.

Those refusals could point to a rough road ahead for the death penalty, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that cleared another drug, midazolam, for use in executions....  Alabama officials are trying to resume executions by lethal injection after a two-year hiatus caused by legal challenges and shortages of key execution drugs.

Tommy Arthur, condemned to death for the 1980s murder-for-hire of Muscle Shoals resident Troy Wicker, is one of several inmates who have challenged the state’s current approach to execution: injecting an inmate with midazolam to deaden pain, rocuronium to still the muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Midazolam has been used in botched executions in other states, including an Oklahoma execution in 2014 in which it took an inmate more than 30 minutes to die after the drugs were injected.  Inmates say the use of midazolam is cruel and unusual, but the U.S. Supreme Court approved its use in an Oklahoma case last summer, seemingly clearing the way for executions in Alabama as well.

Lawyers for the state on Wednesday asked a federal court for a summary judgment that would end Arthur’s appeals and send him to the execution chamber.  But Arthur’s lawyers are trying to flip the script in the case. Before the state adopted midazolam as a death penalty drug, Arthur filed a similar challenge against the use of pentobarbital, Alabama’s main execution drug before 2014.  Now that he’s faced with execution by a new drug, Arthur wants to switch back to pentobarbital, a drug he claims is less cruel than midazolam.

Lawyers for the Alabama attorney general’s office say they can’t return to pentobarbital, because no one will sell the drug to the Department of Corrections. “These sources have either indicated they cannot obtain the ingredients for compounded pentobarbital, were not capable of compounding pentobarbital, or refused to be a supplier for the ADOC” lawyers for the attorney general’s office wrote in a court document.

The court documents, among hundreds of pages filed in Arthur’s case last week, shed light on Alabama’s often secretive attempts to obtain drugs for use in lethal injection.  Several states have struggled to get their hands on drugs because a growing number of drug suppliers refuse to sell them, citing ethical objections or opposition to capital punishment....  [I]n the Arthur case ... new court documents show ... the state simply couldn’t find a supplier, despite contacting “nearly thirty” sources....

Arthur’s lawyers supplied the state with a list of 19 Alabama pharmacies they said were potential sources of pentobarbital. (All 19 names are blacked out in court documents.)  But the state’s lawyers argue they’ve contacted all 19, plus others, and been turned down. “While Arthur alleged that as many as 10 states intend to use compounded pentobarbital for executions, the process of obtaining compounded pentobarbital is difficult to impossible for most,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

That might not matter now, given that Alabama has switched to midazolam, a drug that’s more readily available on the market.  But pharmacists’ resistance to compounding execution drugs may soon turn out to be important in the search for midazolam as well...

Two major suppliers of midazolam — Illinois-based Akorn and New Jersey-based Becton-Dickinson — have declared in the past year that they’re opposed to selling the drug to Alabama for executions.  While the state hasn’t identified its midazolam supplier, the state’s lawyers used “package inserts,” essentially instructions for use of a midazolam, from Akorn and Becton Dickinson in court filings this year. Both companies have denied selling the drug directly to Alabama prisons, and Akorn even asked the state to return any Akorn-made midazolam it had on hand for executions.

Individual pharmacists are also backing out of the lethal injection business.  Last year, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists and the American Pharmacists Association both voted to discourage their members from supplying drugs for executions.

January 4, 2016 at 09:29 AM | Permalink

Comments

Guns are quicker. If you are going to kill other humans be efficient. Poisons? And you call them "drugs"? Phony, phony, ba lony.

Posted by: Beldar From Remulak | Jan 5, 2016 11:36:25 AM

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