National Shortage of Drug for Lethal Injections Leads to Stays of Execution

Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear recently held off signing death warrants for two inmates because of a shortage of the drug sodium thiopental, a key component of the state’s lethal injection protocol. Kentucky’s stock of the lethal injection drug expires October 1, and the Department of Corrections does not expect a new supply until early 2011 because the only supplier of this drug in the country, Hospira, is unable to obtain the active ingredient for the drug. Even when a new supplier for the active ingredient is found, FDA approval will be needed. The governor did set a September 16 date for the execution of Gregory Wilson, which could occur before the state’s supply of the drug expires. In Oklahoma, the state’s Department of Corrections recently tried to substitute another drug for sodium thiopental for the execution of Jeffrey Matthews because of concerns about the purity of the supply on hand. A federal judge stayed the execution of Matthews in order to provide time to study the situation. Attorneys for Matthews challenged the substitution of a new drug as a form of human experimentation. Almost all states in the country use essentially the same protocol for lethal injections.

(C. Coffey, “Ky. governor holding off on some executions due to shortage of key drug,”, August 26, 2010; S. Williams-Allen, “State believes drug in compliance with statute,” The Purcell Register (OK), August 26, 2010; Letter of Gov. Beshear to Hospira, Aug. 23, 2010). Read more about the Lethal Injection and Botched Executions. See Methods of Execution.