Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oklahoma Turns to Animal Euthanizing Drug for Executions

Oklahoma federal judge Stephen Friot will soon hear arguments on whether Oklahoma can execute John David Duty with pentobarbital a drug used for euthanizing animals. The drug would be substituted for sodium thiopental the powerful anesthetic that is widely used for lethal injection and is in short supply.

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. maker of thiopental, announced this summer that it had ceased production of the drug until 2011, citing a shortage in one of thiopental's raw ingredients.

Oklahoma authorities have suggested that veterinarians regard pentobarbital, which it is proposing as a substitute anesthetic for death row inmates, "as an ideal anesthetic agent for humane euthanasia in animals," that is "substantially" similar to thiopental, reported the WSJ.

Many states, including Arizona, California, Kentucky and Tennessee, have combed domestic or overseas suppliers in search of thiopental, in some cases successfully. Other states, such as Texas, have a sufficient stockpile on hand to cover near-term executions, but they could run into delays next year if Hospira doesn't make a new supply, reported the WSJ.

Arkansas hasn’t executed anyone since Nov. 28, 2005, but the state supplied a drug used for an execution in Oklahoma. A shortage of sodium thiopental has sent states across the country scrambling to acquire doses before their next scheduled executions. Some have turned to Arkansas.

After the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay on two executions scheduled earlier this year because of objections raised over the state’s recently changed lethal-injection law, the state was left with extra supplies of the drug that will expire in 2011.

Efforts to obtain thiopental from foreign sources have created controversy and legal battles. Arizona used a dose of sodium thiopental obtained overseas to execute Jeffey Landrigan earlier this month, A lawsuit filed last week in London alleges that Tennessee ordered a supply of thiopental from Britain to carry out the scheduled January execution of Edmund Zagorski.

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