Drug Shortage Disrupts Lethal-Injection Mix

Drug shortage creates repercussions for Texas, Georgia on executions.

ByABC News
March 16, 2011, 1:41 PM

March 16, 2011 -- Prison officials in two states have been forced to take dramatic measures in the past 24 hours because one of the drugs used to carry out executions by lethal injection is no longer manufactured in the United States.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said today that because its supply of sodium thiopenthal has expired, it will change its three-drug protocol. Effective immediately, pentobarbital will now be substituted for sodium thiopenthal, officials said.

Both drugs are used to induce a coma-like unconsciousness. They are normally followed up in Texas by pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate, and potassium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest.

Texas has executed more death row inmates than any other state. There are 337 inmates on death row there, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which is opposed to the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Department of Corrections was forced to turn over the state's entire supply of sodium thiopenthal to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency expressed concern that the state may have improperly imported the drug from a foreign supplier.

Confirming the seizure, a DEA spokesman said the agency acted because of "compliance-related issues" with the importation of the drug.

Georgia has no executions scheduled.

Of the 34 states that allow the death penalty, 31 use sodium thiopenthal.

The lone U.S. supplier of the drug stopped production in 2009, which caused states to scramble to find a new supplier or change their protocols.

Death row inmates and their lawyers have raised questions about whether the drug should be imported from foreign sources at all or whether states are allowing enough time to test new protocols.

Texas chose to change its protocol. Officials say the change will be in place for the April 5 scheduled execution of Cleve Foster. Foster was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2003 murder of Nyanuer "Mary" Pal. Foster's lawyer, Maurie Levin of the University of Texas Capital Punishment Center, is furious.