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State Searches For New Source Of Execution Drugs

When the state executed Harry Mitts earlier this week, it used the last of its execution drug.And it won’t be able to get any more from the manufacturer. Andrew Welsh Huggins, a reporter for the Associated Press, has studied Ohio’s death penalty extensively and authored a book about it. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Welsh Huggins explains where the state goes from here. 

Welsh Huggins – Back in 2009, we did a change in Ohio where we went to a single drug.  We have kept a single drug since then. Just the drug has changed.  We started with sodium thiopental. The manufacturer put that off limits.  The state moved to pentobarbital The manufacturer of that again put it off limits.  Ohio’s supply of that expires at the end of September so Ohio has to come up with a new way of putting inmates to death.

Ingles – So where does that stand and where to they go from here?

Welsh Huggins – The department of Rehabilitation and Corrections has said that by October 4th, it will announce what it is doing to do.  It hasn’t given any indication but various hints, things that have been filed in court papers, leave a lot of people to believe is that what they will do is begin using compounding pharmacies, pharmacies that are specially licensed to mix individual doses of drugs for patients….all kinds of drugs, nothing to do with executions or the death penalty.  These are specialty drugs for patients.  The feeling is that Ohio is probably going to announce that it is going to use a compounding pharmacy to create individual doses of pentobarbital which is the current drug that Ohio uses.

Ingles – What is the upside or downside on that?

Welsh Huggins – Well as one defense attorney pointed out to me recently, the lawsuit challenging that will be filed between 24 and 48 hours after the prison system announces it.  It’s a brand new protocol which means it’s going to have to go through the federal courts.  There’s a pending lawsuit in the federal courts involving Ohio’s lethal injection system so it will fit right into that.  The biggest question is whether a federal judge would allow this new system to be used for an execution coming up in November.  So the plus side is that if they do this approach, they would be using pentobarbital which the state has used successfully in executions during the past few years so they could argue that they really aren’t doing anything differently.  It’s just a new source of the drug.  The downside is that people could argue that the creation of the drug is completely different and compounding pharmacies have had some difficulties with contamination of other types of drugs, again not related to the death penalty but the argument could be made that it is not a secure system.  So again, those are the two biggest arguments.  The biggest question will be how quick the challenge to this new system will be and then how a federal judge will handle it and if he will stop executions while it’s debated or allow executions to continue on a case by case basis.

Ingles – Do you think that’s going to mean basically we will see a lull in executions and that executions will be put on hold while we have court challenges for a while.

Welsh Huggins –It could well be that executions will be put on hold. 

Welsh Huggins says the court might force the state to put any new protocol through a trial before granting approval.