Nationwide Shortage of Lethal Injection Drug

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 09, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There is a nationwide shortage of the drug used by states to carry out executions and it is causing a wide range of questions and problems. Thiopental sodium, lethal injection drug used as an anesthetic, is now becoming hard for states to come by. Several alternatives have been proposed, most with legal problems attached.

In Oklahoma, for instance, state authorities propose substituting pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals as its lethal injection drug, The Wall Street Journal reports. Despite its usual use on animals, the state claims the drug is "substantially" similar to thiopental sodium. Attorneys for John David Duty, an inmate slated for execution in Oklahoma are protesting, calling the drug untried and arguing that its use could result in an unconstitutionally cruel execution.

A federal judge will rule on the proposed substitution in Oklahoma later in the month.

Other states such as Arizona, California, Kentucky and Tennessee would like to keep using thiopental sodium and have considered turning to foreign sources for supplies. However, The Journal reports, this is causing problems as well. Drugs from an untested source outside of the country may not have the same level of effectiveness, according to defense attorneys challenging the use of imported thiopental sodium.

California, for one, will be spared some of the legal wrangling going on in other states eager to continue executions. Somehow, the state of California was able to find four additional doses of the lethal injection drug. According to ABC 7 News, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation won't say how it was able to get the drug, other than confirming it was obtained domestically, and by legal means. Even Governor Schwarzenegger does not know how the state came by the extra thiopental sodium, or he is just not saying.

"Have I seen it? The drug? No. But apparently we have it in the state," the governor told ABC 7.

Since California has seven inmates currently scheduled for execution, the state is unlikely to share its last cache of the drug with others. Therefore, the ruling of the Oklahoma judge as to the efficacy and legality of the substitute pentobarbital will have an effect on the rate of executions not just in Oklahoma, but elsewhere.

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