A little more than a month ago, the only U.S. company to make sodium thiopental--the drug used to administer lethal injections--announced that it would no longer produce the substance after the Italian production facilitly objected to the drug being used for executions. Many wondered whether this might disrupt the administration of lethal injections in the U.S. Yet this hasn't proven to be case: Ohio executed a man today using a different drug, pentobarbital--a drug previously used to euthanize animals.
In December 2010, John David Duty was executed in Oklahoma in what was believed to be the first use of pentobarbital in an execution--although in this case it was one of three drugs administered in total, taking sodium thiopental's place. Divina Mims at CNN reported that Duty's lawyers had argued that the drug was unsafe--but a judge disagreed and the execution went on. Now Ohio has been the first to use pentobarbital alone in an execution.
Other states have found other methods to adapt to the lack of sodium thiopental. Arizona, California, Georgia and Tennessee, were able to secure some of the drug from England before the British government "banned its export for use in executions," according to the AP. It is unclear how much they have stored. And Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, tells the AP that states are likely to continue to devise similar ways to get around the lack of the sodium thiopental.
The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003, though they have apparently run out of the drug as well. Attorney General Eric Holder is quoted by the AP as saying the lack of sodium thiopental "is a serious concern." Thirty-four states currently allow the death penalty.
The lack of sodium thiopental has raised some uncomfortable issues around the administering of capital punishment. It has also raised issues regarding the connection of the international community to execution in the United States. But it's not clear that it has been enough to halt the death penalty.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.