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

Jul 27, 2023

Alabama exe­cutes James Barber as SCOTUS denies a stay

On July 21, 2023, Alabama death row pris­on­er James Barber was exe­cut­ed two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his motion for a stay in a 6 – 3 deci­sion. This marks the state’s first exe­cu­tion since a series of three botched exe­cu­tions in 2022


Jul 18, 2023

Ohio Joins Fifteen Other States Without an Execution in 5 Years

Today marks the five-year anniver­sary of Ohio’s last exe­cu­tion, which took place on July 18, 2018. Ohio now joins 15 oth­er states with­out an exe­cu­tion in the past five years. Although there is no for­mal mora­to­ri­um, Governor Mike DeWine has i…

Botched Executions

May 08, 2023

Family Sues Alabama Over Longest Known Execution in U.S. History’

On May 3, 2023, the fam­i­ly of Joe Nathan James (pic­tured) sued the state of Alabama for the pain and suf­fer­ing it caused dur­ing his three-hour-long lethal injec­tion in 2022. It is believed to be the longest known exe­cu­tion in U.S. his­to­ry. The sui…


May 02, 2023

As Tennessee Legislature Ends, Two Death-Penalty Bills Fail and One Passes

Bills to alter the state’s method of exe­cu­tion and to make the exe­cu­tion process more trans­par­ent failed in Tennessee’s leg­is­la­ture this year as its ses­sion con­clud­ed. In an effort to facil­i­tate exe­cu­tions bogged down by the state’s prob­lems with …


Apr 28, 2023

South Carolina Advances Legislation to Keep Execution Details Secret

Bills to hide the iden­ti­ties of lethal-injec­tion drug sup­pli­ers and exe­cu­tion team mem­bers from the pub­lic have passed both cham­bers of the South Carolina leg­is­la­ture. The bills face a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process before one can move to the governor’s d…