Lacking lethal drugs, death row improvises

“It’s an artificially created problem,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty. “There is no difficulty in using a sedative such as pentobarbital. It’s done every day in animal shelters throughout the country. But what we have is a conspiracy to choke off capital punishment by limiting the availability of drugs.”

The issue is expected to come to a head soon. Both Texas, the state with the busiest death house, and Ohio have said they would introduce a new lethal injection protocol in the next couple of months. Officials in both of those states have said in court filings that they would run out of their stockpiles in September.

“Corrections departments often buy a year’s supply of the drugs they use, but it has a shelf life and it’s expiring,” said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “I think we are about to have some new breakthroughs on what the states are using. A lot of them will probably follow whatever Texas decides to do.”

On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to allow executions using propofol to move ahead in October and November. There is no question that it would kill, but since it has never been used in an execution, death penalty opponents say, there is no way to say how much pain might be involved or what dose should be administered.