Drug Stoppage Ripples Through Death Penalty Plans

A bit of follow up on last month’s posts about limited drug availability for lethal injections, and how that may put a dent – eventually – in the death penalty.  A drug involved in the lethal injection protocols for nearly all of the 36 states that still execute prisoners is no longer produced in the United States.

First, from Friday’s Washington Post, word that the State of Maryland will be delaying the implementation of death penalty regulations it’s required to do as a result of a 2006 court ruling (which determined that the regulations at that time had been enacted unlawfully).  Executions have been on hold since while waiting for these regulations.  They anticipate a delay of at least three to six months.

Virginia officials quoted in the article indicated they were also reviewing their options, but did not anticipate a delay in executions.  None are presently scheduled.

Oregon has indicated it is out of the drug entirely.

This article indicating essentially the same condition in Texas as in Virginia is notable for a couple of related points (H/T Dispatches From the Culture Wars).  First is that the most likely substitute for sodium thiopental – sodium pentobarbital – may eventually face the same production challenges that have made thiopental scarce enough to prompt clandestine missions between states.  The sole source in the U.S. is owned by a Danish company, which, like Hospira, isn’t keen on its anesthetics being used in executions.

This issue will become federal sooner rather than later.  Attorneys General of 13 states have asked the Department of Justice for guidance on how to address the dwindling supply of sodium thiopental.

But absent a series of executions in the near future, this shortage will not become keenly felt for a bit longer.  The likely outrage, however, will be too late to prevent additional delay.


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