Texas has run out of the drug the state uses to execute condemned criminals on death row, and experts say the problem will continue to plague the state as drug makers continue to be wary of having their products used in capital punishment, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, says the supply of the sedative pentobarbital, which the state has used as the injection drug for the past 13 months, will expire before the next execution, which is set for September 19th.
"The Texas supply of pentobarbital will expire in September," Clark told 1200 WOAI news.
Texas just switched to pentobarbital in July of 2012, after supplies of sodium thiopental, which was one of a three drug 'cocktail' that the state had previously used, dried up. Sodium thiopental is made by an Italian company, and the European Union pressured the company not to continue to supply it to U.S. states for use in executions.
Richard Dieter, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, says Texas if facing the same problem. Pentobarbital was made by a Danish company, which included in the sale of the drug rights the proviso that no supplies will be made available for capital punishment.
"Most pharmaceutical companies are international nowadays," he said. "This is going to be an ongoing problem, something which is not solved by going to another drug. These drugs are committed to keeping people alive, and these companies see this as going in the opposite direction."
Pentobarbital has been used in all of the executions which have taken place in the U.S. in the past two years, Dieter said.
"It is true that these other states are running out," he said. "Some states have backup drugs which have not yet been used, but it is a process which is in the law in the states which are considering it."
One option is the anesthetic propofol, which was blamed for the 2009 death of singer Michael Jackson, and has been used as an execution drug by the State of Missouri. But it is marketed by AstraZeneca, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom. The U.K. said after the Missouri execution that it will not allow any of it's nation's products to be exported for use in capital punishment.
Clark says Texas is considering alternatives, but he didn't say what those alternatives might be.
"Alternate sources of pentobarbital are possible, or an alternate drug to use in the lethal injection process," he said.
Dieter says one option could be what are called 'compounding pharmacies,' which are small labs which take existing drugs and adopt them for use by special needs patients, like turning a tablet drug into liquid form for patients who are unable to swallow solids.
"But they have their ethics too," he said.
Clark didn't say whether any of the five executions set for later this year will have to be delayed. Any introduction of a new drug would be certain to attract court challenges that it is 'cruel and unusual punishment.'
Texas has executed eleven people so far this year, including one man who was put to death Wednesday night.
Dieter said there could be major implications in Texas' inability to obtain a reliable source of drugs for capital punishment.
"I think this is maybe a time to step back and examine this more broadly, instead of just saying 'where can we get drugs quickly so we can start carrying out executions'. The state of Texas ought to be consulting with experts, and not just grab at the first thing that's available and can be put into a syringe."