LETHAL INJECTIONS: Ohio and Other States Face New Hurdles with Their Execution Process

Ohio is the only state currently using a single dose of the drug pentobarbital to execute inmates, while other states are using pentobarbital as part of a three-drug protocol. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), the state's supply of the drug will last only until February. Lundbeck, Inc., the manufacturer of pentobarbital, has said they are putting systems in place to block the use of their product in executions. Ohio recently announced changes to its execution protocol that would allow it to use a backup method of execution if the state cannot obtain pentobarbital.  However, the new method has never been used, and involves injecting two drugs directly into an inmate's muscles, bypassing the veins. Under that method, the sedative midazolam would be followed by the painkiller hydromorphone.  There is a possibility of vomiting and convulsions with this protocol.  As with previous changes to execution procedures, the new method could be challenged in court. Tim Young, a State Public Defender, described the new method as, "Untested, anywhere, ever." Because of its limited shelf-life and restrictions by the manufacturer, other states are likey to run out of pentobarbital by 2013.  States might turn to the sedative propofol, but it is also facing shortages, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The Ohio Supreme Court recently set two new execution dates, bringing the total number of scheduled executions to 12 over the next two years.  But two executions previously scheduled in Ohio were stayed due to legal challenges to the lethal injection procedures.  U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost will decide in September whether to stay the September 20 execution of Billy Slagle on the same grounds.

(A. Welsh-Huggins, "Ohio faces snags in execution system," Associated Press, August 26, 2011.)  See also Lethal Injection and Ohio.