Has Texas overdosed on the death penalty drug? Texas is reportedly running out of the drug used to execute prisoners. This should come as no surprise for Texas which has become the most active death penalty state in the country.
The cost of executions is soaring, especially in the state that conducts the most. The necessary drugs have become increasingly hard to get. A year ago it cost the Texas Department of Criminal Justice $83.55 for the drugs used to carry out an execution — sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice released a statement on Thursday confirming that the state’s remaining supply of pentobarbital “will expire” in September. “The agency is exploring all options including alternate sources of pentobarbital or an alternate drug for use in the lethal injection process,” Clark said in the statement.
So far this year, Texas has executed 11 inmates, most recently Wednesday, when Douglas Feldman, 55, was executed for the fatal road rage shooting of two men in Dallas County in 1998. Texas officials have scheduled two executions in September and at least five more before the end of the year. It was unclear whether they have enough of the drug now to carry out those executions — Clark declined to comment.
Last March the state was forced to replace sodium thiopental with pentobarbital after the U.S. supplier of the former drug halted distribution in the midst of international protests. The same month, two death row inmates sued the state, alleging the decision to switch drugs was made in secret without public input; they called for a federal inquiry.
Switching to pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal, raised the cost of drugs for each execution to $1,286.86. “While the cost of the other two drugs may have gone up, the difference is primarily due to pentobarbital ,” said Clark. The Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, Lundbeck, has announced that the drug is unsafe for use in lethal injections and restricted its sale for executions.
Texas prison officials say they have enough of the drug to carry out the five executions scheduled this year, but they declined to comment about how much of the drug they have or what they plan to do if supplies run low.
The state of Texas received national attention recently for its 500th execution; which was a woman. Kimberly McCarthy, 52, for the 1997 murder of her elderly neighbor outside Dallas. McCarthy was the 500th person Texas has executed in the 37 years since the death penalty was reinstated.
McCarthy died 20 minutes after receiving a dose of pentobarbital, according to the Associated Press. With her last words, she thanked her minister and her family, but did not mention her victim. “Thank you, everybody,” McCarthy said. “This is not a loss; this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love y’all. Thank you, chaplain.”
The AP then described her death: “As the drug started to take effect, McCarthy said, ‘God is great,’ before closing her eyes. She took hard, raspy, loud breaths for several seconds before becoming quiet. Then, her chest moved up and down for another minute before she stopped breathing.”
McCarthy was the 13th woman executed in the United States and the fourth in Texas this year, since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. During that time, more than 1,300 men have been executed nationwide; 496 of them in Texas.
“She has become a symbol because she is the 500th execution,” McCarthy’s attorney, Maurie Levin stated, before the execution. “Perhaps that is fitting, perhaps that is extra shameful. It certainly should be a reminder to anybody that the system is profoundly problematic and is not one we should be comfortable with.”
Texas has put more people to death than any other state in the country by far, 503 since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed executions to resume. That’s more than four times as many as the next busiest death penalty state, Virginia, which has executed 110 inmates.
Along with other death penalty states, they have increasingly had difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs as manufacturers, facing opposition from opponents of capital punishment, have limited production.
Richard Dieter, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, said all executions carried out in the United States during the past 13 months have used pentobarbital. He said some states are in the process of obtaining the necessary legal approval to switch to other sedatives. One option is the surgical anesthetic propofol, which was blamed for the 2009 death of The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and has been used in executions by the state of Missouri.
However, this drug raises a similar problem. The British-based company that markets it, AstraZeneca, has said that after the Missouri execution it will not allow any of its products to be exported for use in capital punishment.
States might consider turning to so-called compounding pharmacies, small laboratories that can remix existing narcotics to fill specific needs, generally on the order of a doctor, Mr. Dieter said. But compounding pharmacies might also be reluctant to cooperate on moral grounds. “They have their own ethics,” he said. “I’m not sure that will be a fruitful way to go.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster recently suggested that if a suitable execution drug can’t be found, the state should consider the gas chamber. State law still allows for execution by lethal gas, though Missouri no longer even has a gas chamber.
Texas is the biggest pro death state in these United States of America… they will find a way.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)