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July 10, 2011

"States: Death-penalty drug scramble, higher cost"

The title of this post is the headline of this new press report, which gets started this way:

States not only are having an increasingly difficult time getting the injectable drugs to carry out death sentences, they're also paying as much as 10 times more for the chemicals as in years past.

Ohio only has 40 grams of pentobarbital, enough for seven executions scheduled through February, meaning a likely scramble to find enough for the four scheduled beyond that.

Texas, with the country's busiest death chamber, says it has enough for eight more executions but won't comment on supplies past September.  It used the drug Thursday night for the execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal for the 1994 rape-slaying of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio, despite White House pleas for a Supreme Court stay.

Ohio, Texas and several other states switched to pentobarbital from sodium thiopental this year, after the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium pentothal said it would discontinue production.

Lake Forest, Ill.-based Hospira, which strongly opposed the drug's use in executions, stopped manufacturing it altogether.  Hospira said it couldn't promise authorities in Italy, where the drug was to be produced, that it could control the product's distribution all the way to the end user to guarantee it wouldn't be used in executions.

States then switched to pentobarbital, but Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., the only U.S.-licensed maker of the injectable barbiturate, said July 1 it would put the medication off-limits for capital punishment.  It announced a new, tightly controlled distribution system, intended to keep the drug out of the hands of prisons while ensuring deliveries to hospitals and treatment centers for therapeutic purposes, as in the treatment of epilepsy.

It's unclear whether states will be able to stockpile any remaining pentobarbital, which is marketed as Nembutal.  Lundbeck says it believes little inventory is left for states to purchase following the announcement.  And with an expiration date of about two years, states would have to switch by 2013 anyway.

If pentobarbital supplies dry up, executions could be delayed around the nation as states look for yet another alternative.  For many states, making a switch requires a lengthy regulatory and review process.  And any change typically leads to lawsuits from inmates who claim the substance violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Lawsuits over pentobarbital are still being heard.

July 10, 2011 at 09:12 PM | Permalink


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Prison industries should make these poisons from 19th Century recipes. These are not regulated by the FDA, nor by the DEA, since they are not drugs but poisons, designed to kill not to fulfill health claims.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 10, 2011 10:36:17 PM

could always fire up old sparky!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 10, 2011 11:41:27 PM

SC and rodsmith are correct in that, if one method becomes too problematic, states will switch to another. There have been several methods of execution used in the USA, none of which has been found unconstitutional by SCOTUS.

All the contentiousness about using one drug or another is a gimmick. The aim is to end the death penalty without doing the work of convincing the electorate or the judiciary that it should go. But in a democratic system, getting that kind of work done is the only legitimate route to change. As long as abolitionism devotes itself to gimmicks, it's going to fail, just as it has failed over the last several years (and for exactly the same reason).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 11, 2011 9:04:28 AM

wouldn't take florida no time. We still have our old sparky!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 11, 2011 11:26:40 AM

rodsmith --

If Florida went back to the electric chair, the same folks who are beside themselves about states' use of imported drugs would undoubtedly conclude that the Sunshine State was using the wrong brand of electrons.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 11, 2011 12:19:59 PM

I ask again: what is wrong with just switching to the constitutionally-upheld method of execution by firing squad?

Posted by: alpino | Jul 11, 2011 1:51:09 PM


most states wouldn't have the guts to do that.

Posted by: DaveP | Jul 11, 2011 4:12:31 PM

DaveP --

Bingo. More likely the gas chamber or the electric chair.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 11, 2011 4:21:04 PM

Bill Otis

Kent posted about changing the ingredients for the gas chamber on a previous post. I will have to find that.

Posted by: DaveP | Jul 11, 2011 4:23:39 PM


"most states wouldn't have the guts to do that."

Hopefully most states have the decency not to do that.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Jul 11, 2011 6:55:29 PM


"Hopefully most states have the decency not to do that."

What method do you propose? Lethal injection was developed in order to be more humane. But nothing is ever good enough, and there are endless complaints about Drug X or Drug Y or anything else.

The DP is the law and executions are going to go forward. That is the state of play. So what method do you want?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 11, 2011 7:08:04 PM


it's quick and painless. Would you then pressure the companies that make bullets to not sell them to prisons?

Posted by: DaveP | Jul 11, 2011 9:45:48 PM

How is it legal for Lundbeck to discriminate and make distributors sign an agreement to not sell to a particular person, agency, or group? I see a lawsuit coming by the first prison refused to be sold to. Imagine if a company refused to sell a drug to gays because they didnt approve of their lifestyle? How many liberal rights groups would be up in arms and how long would it take for Holder to sue these Danish clowns?

Just how isnt the attorney general or FDA, or FTC not banning Lundbeck from selling ALL its drugs in the USA because of a discriminatory policy? All you legal eagles have an GOOD Answer?

Posted by: DeanO | Jul 11, 2011 9:55:51 PM

well deano probably becasue everyone has a right to NOT do business with someone except in certain conditions of descriminatin.

last time i looked GOVT was not a protected class

plus they are refusing to sell to ALL US GOVT agencies so they can't be said to be descrimination against one !

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 12, 2011 2:32:13 PM

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