Sodium thiopental, a drug used as an anesthetic to induce unconsciousness is given to prisoners during lethal injections. In most states it's one of three drugs used to carry out executions.
Two states, Washington and Ohio, use only sodium thiopental in their executions. They administer enough of the sedative to cause an overdose, which kills the prisoner. Ohio has carried out eight executions using the just sodium thiopental and Washington has just carried out its first.
According to NPR there is now a shortage of sodium thiopental and the shortage has already had an impact on executions. Some states have been trying to get additional supplies of the drug for months. In August, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear was asked to sign death warrants for three prisoners but could set only one execution date because it only had a single dose of the drug.
"States can't just change their method of execution without either some legislation —or at least an administrative procedure — that goes before public comment," Richard Dieter with the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes the death penalty told NPR. He added, "And so to make the change is a six-month or a year process."
That is not necessarily so. After a difficult execution in Ohio last fall, Ohio halted executions for about three months. When executions returned to Ohio they went from a three drug method to the one drug method.
Ohio officials say they have a backup drug, but would not elaborate. According to NPR, implementing the use of a different drug may be a problem. In Oklahoma, officials want to use a substitute drug. But a judge didn't agree, and last month stopped an execution.
Ohio may be the state that forges ahead with a substitute drug for sodium theopental if the shortage begins to impact Ohio's record setting execution rate. This year, Ohio is behind only Texas in the number of executions carried out. Last year, they lead the way in changing the process.
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