SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

February 19, 2014

Shortage of execution drugs becomes more acute

(Continued)

But now, some compounding pharmacies are starting to back away, too.

Experts say they’re not surprised, given the limited profit in selling execution drugs, ethical concerns in the medical profession, potential legal costs and unwanted publicity.

“This is not a good business model for compounding pharmacies, to be making drugs for executions, particularly with all the secret ways they’re doing it,” Fordam Law School professor Deborah Denno said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, agreed.

“I’m sure they’ve never had such publicity,” Dieter said. “They must be wondering what they got themselves into.”

In Texas, the nation’s most active death-penalty state, where 510 lethal injections have been carried out since 1982, the supply of pentobarbital may be running low.

After Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy near Houston was revealed in October as the supplier for Texas, the pharmacy asked the state Department of Criminal Justice to return unused vials. The state refused to do so.

The state’s existing supply expires April 1. Texas has two executions scheduled for March and five others after the expiration date.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement last week that the agency “continues to explore all options, including the continued use of pentobarbital or an alternate drug(s) in the lethal injection process.”

The Woodlands pharmacy did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Ohio’s lethal injection policy, like those in Missouri and Texas, calls for a single dose of pentobarbital. The state was unable to obtain pentobarbital for the past two executions, instead using a backup, two-drug combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

That combination was used to kill Dennis McGuire on Jan. 16 in an execution that raised new concerns. McGuire took 26 minutes to die, snorting, gasping and repeatedly opening and shutting his mouth as the drugs took effect.

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