Texas is Running Out of Execution Drug- Still so?
A 2018, Guardian exposé revealed that some capital punishment states spent more than $1 million each to illicitly procure lethal drugs used to execute death row inmates.
The fact that the money was spent at the height of the Covid pandemic when many citizens were struggling for basic necessities created quite a furor. Although the acceptance of capital punishment is on the wane, many states continue to take extreme measures in response to the shortage of lethal drugs that Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, and others have been dealing with.
In fact, as per reports, Texas has faced acute shortage of the anesthetic component of the 3-drug cocktail used for execution – pentobarbital, since 2013. Report below:
Texas is Running Out of Execution Drug!
Texas Department of Criminal Justice has reported a severe shortage of pentobarbital – the drug used for lethal injection executions. This coming September, there will be no means available to follow the 7 executions scheduled for the following months. As of now, there has been no official announcement about delaying executions.
Up to May 2012, Texas was in possession of 46 vials, each containing 0.0881ounce of pentobarbital. This amount was sufficient to put to death 23 inmates (one execution requires 0.1763 ounces).
According to Richard Dieter, a senior at the Washington anti-death sentence organization Death Penalty Information Center, Texas is exerting a lot of effort to acquire pentobarbital in domestic as well as in international markets, yet it is running into serious difficulties. Producers, unwilling to take part in executions, refuse to sell the drug.
Texas takes the lead in the number of execution per year in comparison to other death penalty states. Since 1982, 503 people were put to death. Virginia is second on the list with only 110 executions.
Local supplies were the first to dry up!
Till 2011, Texas executed 466 convicts using the 3-drug protocol that they brought into existence. Stories abounded of botched procedures in which the lower than required dosage of the anesthetic component or its improper administration caused death row prisoners to suffer excruciating pain, sometimes for up to half an hour.
And the bad press that these write-ups invited led homegrown pharmaceutical companies to either limit the manufacture of the 3 drugs required for execution or halt production completely.
And then, Europe sounded the death knell for death drugs!
European drug makers who provided a steady flow of these compounds also stemmed the supply of these ingredients in 2010. Hospira stopped the production of sodium thiopental even in its Illinois facility, owing to the drug’s use as the anesthetic component of the execution drug mix.
This spurred the use of another powerful barbiturate, pentobarbital. In fact, because supplies of all 3 components began to dwindle, Texas quickly made the switch to a single drug protocol that used an overdose of pentobarbital for execution. However, Denmark’s Lundbeck, a major supplier of the barbiturate, stopped supplying the drug to American prisons.
By 2012, several executions had to be delayed due to the shortage of execution drugs. The final blow to the supply chain was delivered by the EU in 2012 when it openly condemned the use of drugs made in Europe for capital punishment by severely regulating their manufacture. The UK wasn’t far behind in following their lead.
The FDA was no friend of Texas in this matter!
For Texas, the shortage became acute as the FDA confiscated 1,000 vials of imported sodium thiopental. These were imported from a less than reputable vendor in India. FDA’s stand on the matter was simple- They seized the drug because it was not authorized in the US for use in humans.
The Lone star State retaliated by suing the FDA, asking that the vials be released to them. The matter was sub judice till 2019, when the Trump Administration finally allows TX DCJ to get their hands on the drug.
But that was nearly 3 years ago; the shortage of these drugs has currently led states to reconsider other methods of execution, which by today’s standards would be considered cruel and inhumane.
Will it be back to the barbaric ways, then?
Utah and South Carolina have already made legal provisions that allow the use of a firing squad to execute condemned prisoners while Tennessee has turned to electrocution as a means of execution.
Although Texas hasn’t gone down these roads as yet, it is an open secret that the state now relies on Compounding Pharmacies for their supply of the barbiturate. The big problem here is that many of these pharmacies have a history of practice violations.
But, then accountability does not rank at all on the list of priorities in Texas, when it comes to capital punishment. The state is known to have used drug vials with fungal culture development in them to execute death row inmates.
However, despite their enthusiasm to keep the death machinery running, a lot of compounding pharmacies too are now shunning the bad press that comes with manufacturing drugs used in executions.
So, the question is this- With supplies ceasing from all quarters, how long before Texas takes a similar tack?
More importantly, while 70% Americans still support capital punishment, would this continue to be the case if the method of execution moves away from lethal injections?