Thursday, October 31, 2013, by Stella Kreilkamp
This week, Ohio prison officials announced that Ronald Phillips, convicted of raping and killing a 3-year-old girl, would be executed with a combination of two drugs never before used in an execution. Ohio plans on using the untested combination of a sedative, midazolam, and a painkiller, hydromorphone, because the state has run out of pentobarbital, the drug previously used for executions.
States are running out of lethal injection drugs because manufacturers are banning their use in the United States if the drugs are used for executions.
Ohio joins Texas, Georgia, Missouri, and others in the states seeking lethal injection alternatives. States are running out of lethal injection drugs because manufacturers are banning their use in the United States if the drugs are used for executions. Texas, which executes the most inmates in the country, also ran out of pentobarbital in September of this year, but found a new supplier that will last through the end of the year. Manufacturers of these drugs are finding that supplying these drugs is not good business. Any association with executions is negative, and not enough of these drugs are used in executions to justify their production for profit reasons. In 2011, the only manufacturer of lethal injection drugs located in the United States announced that it would stop producing these drugs because of a move overseas, to Italy. Italian authorities demanded the company to guarantee that the drug would not be used to put inmates to death, and the company decided not to risk the liability and cease production of the drug altogether.
Like Ohio, states that are running out of lethal injection drugs have announced that they will use compounding pharmacies, which make customized combinations of drugs. Compounding pharmacies must register with the state, but are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. These pharmacies have been under greater scrutiny since 2012, when an outbreak of meningitis occurred from a contaminated drug made by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. Opponents of the death penalty, as well as doctors and pharmaceutical companies, argue that there is “too much uncertainty” with these compounded drugs. No one knows “how long the death will take, or how much suffering will be involved.”
Earlier this year, a judge in Georgia granted a temporary stay of execution for an inmate in part because of concerns about the use of a compounded drug. While the execution was delayed in Georgia, earlier in October, Texas executed a prisoner, Michael Yowell, using pentobarbital purchased from a compounding pharmacy. Despite the fact that the pharmacy requested the drugs back prior to the execution, Texas officials refused to return them. Yowell, along with other inmates, challenged the use of the drug because it was manufactured by a compounding pharmacy and thus potentially unsafe. Courts rejected their challenge. Also earlier in October, the Missouri governor delayed an execution where the state was planning on using propofol, a drug never before used in the United States for an execution. Governor Nixon delayed the execution “in light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions.”
Since the drug combination is untested, there is no way of knowing how much Ronald Phillips might suffer or how long his death will take. Phillips’ attorneys are trying to block the execution until a federal judge can review the new protocols. The execution is scheduled for November 14.