DALLAS — Texas will use one drug to carry out executions instead of its usual three-drug method because it has run out of one of the drugs, prison officials said Tuesday.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will use just pentobarbital, a sedative that is typically the first of three drugs administered. The agency’s stock of the second drug, pancuronium bromide, expired, and it was unable to obtain more, spokesman Jason Clark said.
Clark said other states also now use one drug and that courts have upheld the procedure.
Scott Cobb with the Texas Moratorium Network, an anti-death penalty group, predicted the change will be met with further lawsuits from inmates facing execution under the new one-drug protocol.
“There’s always a concern when you institute a new procedure to execute someone because the people who administer it aren’t trained to use it and don’t know what the effects are,” Cobb said. “On a deeper level, even if they start using this one-drug procedure, it’s not going to be the end of their problems,” he said, noting the state supply of pentobarbital is purchased from a Denmark company that protests its use in capital punishment.
“The reasons they (are) having supply problems is, manufacturers don’t want their drugs used for executions,” Cobb said. “So it’s only a matter of time before the new drug supply is diminished.”
Texas is the nation’s most active death penalty state. It has executed 482 people since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982. Five people have been executed this year. Texas’ next execution is set for July 18.
“Implementing the change in protocol at this time will ensure that the agency is able to fulfill its statutory responsibility for all executions currently scheduled,” Clark said in the statement.
Several states have had difficulty obtaining drugs to carry out executions. Texas prison officials said in May that the state had enough pentobarbital for 23 executions. No executions have taken place since then.
Pentobarbital is the first lethal drug used during each execution in Huntsville, according to Texas death penalty procedures.
Last year, one of the drugs Texas had used in the process became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found, so the drug was replaced by pentobarbital.
Pancuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant typically used after pentobarbital. The final drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart.
Arizona, Idaho, Ohio and Washington have used a single drug to carry out executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ohio was the first to use just pentobarbital, for a March 2011 execution.
In April, an Arizona inmate shook for several seconds after receiving a lethal dose of pentobarbital. The drug had been used by itself.
Additional material from staff writer Chuck Lindell.
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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