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April 13, 2016

Taking stock of how the continued lack of lethal drug stocks is altering execution dynamics

The folks at The Marshall Project have this effective new review of the state of death penalty states deep into the enduring challenges so many are having finding lethal injection drugs for executions. The piece is headlined "How the Drug Shortage Has Slowed the Death-Penalty Treadmill: Only 4 states are currently carrying out lethal injections, and 10 are considering other methods." Here is the piece's effective accounting (with links from the original):

We’ve determined the status of executions for the 31 states that allow the death penalty, as well as for the federal government. Here is the breakdown:

  • Only four states are currently carrying out lethal injections. Texas, Missouri, and Georgia use a single drug, pentobarbital (Georgia is set to use the drug for an execution on Tuesday). Alabama has scheduled an execution next month, and uses three drugs in its protocol, including midazolam and pentobarbital. The state’s Department of Corrections has refused to divulge the source of those drugs, which were used for an execution in January, the state’s first in two years.

  • Florida has also enveloped its lethal-injection process in secrecy — and may be able to carry it out — but executions are on hold there because of a Supreme Court decision, Hurst v. Florida, which invalidated the state’s rules surrounding how judges hand down death sentences.

  • Three active execution states have drugs that are about to expire (Virginia, Arizona, and Arkansas). Many states have turned to small compounding pharmacies, which make a version of pentobarbital that loses its potency more quickly than the type manufactured by larger companies.

  • Three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Oklahoma) are tied up in court battles over their drug sources. In Arizona and Arkansas, state officials have said the drugs they have on hand could reach their expiration date before those battles conclude.

  • The difficulty of finding a source of drugs has led Louisiana to halt executions until at least July, and Ohio’s execution chamber will not be in use until 2017. Several of the 11 executions Ohio had planned for this year are rescheduled for as late as 2019. Nebraska is also looking for execution drugs, although the state legislature repealed the death penalty; a public referendum on the punishment is expected in November.

  • Since 2010, the year the drug shortage began to take hold, 17 states and thefederal government have carried out no executions. Five other states (Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, South Carolina, and South Dakota) have carried out no executions since 2012.

At least 10 states have recently considered other methods of execution, including the firing squad (Utah, Mississippi, Wyoming, South Carolina, Missouri, and Arkansas), the electric chair (Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia), and the gas chamber (Oklahoma). Mississippi has considered all three.

April 13, 2016 at 10:50 AM | Permalink


In U.S. history, it seems like periodically the preferred method of execution changes. When lethal injection became the primary means of execution (in the late 70s/early 80s), it seemed to be a more humane method than its predecessors. Now it seems like the supply problems either have or will soon eliminate it as a viable option. For states with the death penalty on the books, legislators (and those in the executive branch with responsibility for carrying out a death sentence) should now be giving serious consideration as to the next preferred method.

Posted by: TMM | Apr 13, 2016 12:33:54 PM

Execution practice seems to follow the experience and practical fears of the day:

Hanging - agriculture/livestock death
Firing squad - military battle
Electric chair - industrial accident
Gas chamber - industrial accident
Lethal injection - medical misadventure

What's next? What's the modern technology and fear that we can press into service? Maybe death by explosion. Or perhaps nanobots. Or ebola.

Posted by: Boffin | Apr 13, 2016 2:31:08 PM

The newest hope is apparently nitrogen gas.

Some want to go back to the firing squad.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 13, 2016 6:03:23 PM

Broffin: what about the guillotine? Fear of intellectuals / philosohers / radical thought. Stoning to death? From the Stone Age. You are brilliant. Agree?

Posted by: Antifederalist | Apr 14, 2016 12:37:00 AM

¿ Hemlock ?

A ¼³² “Modest Proposal”*
The jury first decides whether death •
If death , then the jury decides →WHO← on the jury executes the defendant •
The selected juror executes the defendant with a weapon , previously chosen by the defendant , just before announcing the death sentence •
It saves time , cost and human resources of appeals and eliminates the anxiety of waiting years in a mini-cell on death row •
There →IS← the downside of executing a defendant who is innocent or ought not be executed „ but that has another solution •

* With a ½♥ed apology to Mr. J. Swift ☺

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady „ the Nemo Me ♠ Impune Lacessit ♂ in Oregon ‼ | Apr 14, 2016 4:25:20 AM

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