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


Jul 11, 2024

NPR Investigation Reveals Supplier of Texas Execution Drugs Has Multiple Drug Enforcement Agency Violations; Questions Remain Regarding Drug Acquisition in Other States

Five vials of clear liquid, varying sizes. One is on its side with a syringe in it.

A July 10, 2024, National Public Radio (NPR) inves­ti­ga­tion has revealed that Rite Away, a small chain of phar­ma­cies locat­ed around San Antonio and Austin, Texas, com­pound­ed and pro­vid­ed pen­to­bar­bi­tal for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) between 2019 and late 2023 to car­ry out lethal injec­tion exe­cu­tions. During the same time peri­od, this phar­ma­cy records at the Texas Board of Pharmacy and fed­er­al Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) indi­cate the phar­ma­cy was cit­ed for mul­ti­ple safety…

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Jul 02, 2024

Federal Execution-Drug Supplier Says It Will No Longer Produce Pentobarbital for Executions

Connecticut-based com­pa­ny Absolute Standards, which was iden­ti­fied as the source of lethal injec­tion drugs used in 13 fed­er­al exe­cu­tions in 2020 and 2021, has said it will no longer pro­duce the drug used in exe­cu­tions — pen­to­bar­bi­tal. In a let­ter to two Connecticut law­mak­ers, John Criscio, pres­i­dent of Absolute Standards, said the com­pa­ny ceased pro­duc­ing pen­to­bar­bi­tal in December 2020, and has no inten­tion to resume any pro­duc­tion or sale of pen­to­bar­bi­tal.” Mr. Criscio’s let­ter explains that…

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Jun 06, 2024

Idaho: New Death Sentence, Updates on Executions, and Lethal Injection Drug Purchase

On June 1, 2024, an Idaho jury sen­tenced Chad Daybell to death for the 2019 mur­ders of his first wife and his sec­ond wife’s two youngest chil­dren. Mr. Daybell plead­ed not guilty to mul­ti­ple first-degree mur­der, fraud, and con­spir­a­cy charges, but after being found guilty, he chose to waive his right to present mit­i­gat­ing evi­dence dur­ing his sen­tenc­ing hear­ing. With this deci­sion, Mr. Daybell declined the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide the jury with rea­sons why he should not be sen­tenced to death.

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May 06, 2024

Secret Execution Drug Supplier Confirmed, While Federal Death Penalty Reviews Continue at Department of Justice

Recent report­ing by The Intercept con­firms a sto­ry aired in April 2024 on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver iden­ti­fy­ing Connecticut-based Absolute Standards as the source of the exe­cu­tion drugs used in 13 fed­er­al exe­cu­tions in 2020 and 2021. Absolute Standards pro­duces mate­ri­als for cal­i­brat­ing research equip­ment, but in 2018, it applied to the Drug Enforcement Administration to be reg­is­tered as a bulk pro­duc­er of pen­to­bar­bi­tal, the anes­thet­ic used in fed­er­al exe­cu­tions and in many…

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Apr 23, 2024

Articles of Interest: Reprieve Issues New Report on Botched Executions and Racial Disparities

A new report issued April 17, 2024 by the UK-based inter­na­tion­al human rights orga­ni­za­tion Reprieve found racial dis­par­i­ties in the occur­rence of botched exe­cu­tions in the United States. As report­ed in The Guardian, Reprieve ana­lyzed all lethal injec­tion exe­cu­tions between 1976 and 2023. It chron­i­cled 73 con­firmed botched pro­ce­dures and found that 8% of exe­cu­tions of Black peo­ple were botched (37 times out of 465 exe­cu­tions), com­pared with 4% for white peo­ple (28 out of…

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