Ohio Postpones Executions Due to Lack of Lethal Injection Drugs

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced on October 19 that the state was postponing all executions until at least 2017 because it has been unable to obtain the lethal injection drugs necessary to carry them out. Governor John Kasich issued warrants of reprieve rescheduling the executions of 11 death-row prisoners with execution dates in 2016 and a 12th with a January 2017 execution date. Ohio rescheduled the executions for dates in 2017 through 2019. The Department issued a statement explaining that “over the past few years it has become exceedingly difficult to secure [execution] drugs because of severe supply and distribution restrictions.” Ohio passed a secrecy law to shield the identity of any lethal injection drug provider. However, the Columbus Dispatch recently reported that the law did not work because Ohio pharmacies, bound by the Hippocratic oath or fearing adverse reactions from their customers, did not want to be involved in executions. Ohio also has been unable to obtain lethal injection drugs from abroad. In June, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration warned the state that importation of execution drugs would violate federal law. The state has sent a letter to the FDA arguing that it should be able to legally import sodium thiopental for executions. Ohio’s last execution was the botched execution of Dennis McGuire on January 16, 2014, using an experimental two-drug protocol of midazolam and hydromorphone. Witnesses reported that McGuire gasped, snorted, and struggled throughout the execution, taking 25 minutes to die. After that execution, Ohio announced that it would shift to a one-drug protocol of either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental.

(D. Bailey, “Ohio delays executions into 2017 due to lack of lethal drugs,” Reuters, October 19, 2015; A. Johnson, “Pharmacies avoid execution trade,” Columbus Dispatch, October 16, 2015.) See Lethal Injection and Upcoming Executions.