Saturday, November 6, 2010

Will Ohio Seek British Execution Drug?

Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch asked in a recent column: Will a British-made drug be used in Ohio executions? Or will a dozen convicted killers get a temporary reprieve? I answered that question in a recent blog,

According to the Dispatch, a national shortage of thiopental sodium has prison officials in Ohio and three dozen other states scrambling to figure out how to carry out legally required lethal-injection executions.

Arizona came up with its own solution, buying thiopental sodium from a British manufacturer so it could execute Jeffrey Landrigan, 50, last week.

A British newspaper, The Guardian, said Arizona obtained the drug from Archimedes Pharma UK, the sole British manufacturer.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials say they have enough of the drug for the execution of Sidney Cornwell of Mahoning County, scheduled for November 16. Beyond that, the supply is uncertain.

Prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn declined to tell the Dispatch whether the state has considered or will consider buying from Great Britain or other foreign sources.

No executions are scheduled in Ohio in December or January, but two are set after that: Frank Spisak of Cuyahoga County in February and Johnnie Baston of Lucas County in March.

In addition, county prosecutors from across the state have petitioned the Ohio Supreme Court to set execution dates in 10 other cases. The court has not acted on the requests, but monthly dates throughout 2011 have been put "on hold" for possible executions.

According to the Dispatch, the problem is a result of a supply shortage from the sole U.S. manufacturer of thiopental sodium, Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill. The company said it doesn't expect to be able to resume production until the first quarter of next year because of a shortage from a supplier of raw material.

Further, Hospira wrote to Ohio and all other states, objecting to the use of the drug for executions. The company said its product is intended to "improve or save lives," not to take them.

In December, Ohio became the first state to switch to a single drug for executions, replacing a three-drug mixture that also uses thiopental sodium. Washington state followed suit.

Although Ohio has an alternative method of execution involving intramuscular injections of strong painkillers, it will be used only as a backup when the single-drug method fails, officials said.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, cleared the way for Arizona to use the foreign-made drug, legal challenges are in the works. I recently wrote about a lawsuit filed in London on behalf of Edmund Zagorski, a Tennessee inmate scheduled to be executed in January. Tennessee is among several states looking into buying thiopental sodium from foreign sources.

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