Lethal Injection

Though lethal injection has been used for a majority of the executions carried out in the modern era, it is plagued by problematic executions and controversy.


All states and the federal government use lethal injection as their primary method of execution. Jurisdictions use a variety of protocols typically employing one, two, or three drugs. Most three-drug protocols use an anesthetic or sedative, followed by a drug to paralyze the inmate, and finally a drug to stop the heart. The one and two-drug protocols typically use an overdose of an anesthetic or sedative to cause death.

Although the constitutionality of lethal injection has been upheld by the Supreme Court, the specific applications used in states continues to be widely challenged prior to each execution. Because it is increasingly difficult to obtain the drugs used in earlier executions, states have resorted to experimenting with new drugs and drug combinations to carry out executions, resulting in numerous prolonged and painful executions. States are also turning to previously discarded forms of execution, such as the electric chair and gas chamber, in the event that lethal drugs cannot be obtained.

At Issue

Even though the issues surrounding lethal injection are far from settled, states are attempting to cut off debate by concealing their execution practices under a veil of secrecy. Recently passed laws bar the public from learning the sources of lethal drugs being used, making it impossible to judge the reliability of the manufacturer or the possible expiration of these drugs.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC has state-by-state summaries of the methods of execution currently in place and the types of drugs used in each execution in the past ten years. A recent DPIC report covers the execution secrecy laws that have been imposed in many states. Statements from various pharmaceutical companies barring the use of their drugs in executions are also provided.

News & Developments

Lethal Injection

Jan 04, 2023

Report: Tennessee Repeatedly Violated Execution Protocol Since 2018

An inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion into Tennessee’s exe­cu­tion prac­tices has found that the state repeat­ed­ly failed to fol­low its own pro­to­cols in per­form­ing sev­en exe­cu­tions and prepar­ing for an eighth between 2018 and 2022. Gov…

Botched Executions

Dec 09, 2022

Alabama Attorney General: There Is No Moratorium” On the Death Penalty

During a December 5, 2022 press con­fer­ence, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (pic­tured) dis­cussed the state’s review of its lethal injec­tion process, reject­ing the media’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of it as a mora­to­ri­um” on exe­cu­tions and urg­ing th…