When you use something as freely as Texas uses pentobarbital, you might expect to run low now and then. That’s exactly what’s happening in the execution capital of the United States. The state’s supply of pentobarbital is only enough to get them through September.
“We will be unable to use our current supply of pentobarbital after it expires,” department spokesman Jason Clark said. “We are exploring all options at this time.”
Cry us a river. Texas, which has 300 prisoners currently on death row, wants to off five of those this year. But, if they can’t find a supplier for their death drug of choice, they may have to *gasp* postpone the executions. Since Texas doesn’t use any other method, they’re kind of stuck.
Pentobarbital, which is used to treat severe epilepsy, is made mostly in Europe. Since the only country there that still uses capital punishment is Belarus, the drug companies of Europe are understandably reluctant to sell their wares to U.S. states that will use them to kill people. In December of 2012, the European Commission ordered firms in the EU that make drugs that can be used in executions to ensure that sales of their product were not going to such uses. An Indian drug company, Kayem Pharmaceuticals, has also stopped selling another drug, thiopental sodium, to U.S. prisons. Now the only company that had been approved by the FDA to sell pentobarbital in the States, the Danish company Lundbeck, has been sold to the Illinois drug company Akorn. And they have said that they will not distribute the drug to prisons in states that implement capital punishment. They make buyers sign a form stating that they will use it for treatment of their own patients and not resell it.
Texas began using pentobarbital in 2010, when supplies of the drug it was then using – sodium thiopental- faced severe shortages. Then the EU put restrictions on sales of sodium thiopental to U.S. prisons and Texas, and other states, had to scramble to find a replacement for their cocktail of death drugs: thiopental sodium, to sedate the prisoner; pancuronium bromide to paralyze them; and potassium chloride to stop the heart. They settled on pentobarbital, even though opponents of capital punishment say that it acts more slowly than the drug it replaced.
Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said other states might be facing similar problems:
“The states really scramble to go all over to get drugs. Some went overseas, some got from each other. But these manufacturers – a number them are based in Europe – don’t want to participate in our executions. So they’ve clamped down as much as they can.”
Still, Texas is “confident” that they will be able to score their fix in spite of the shortage. Since they have already killed 11 people so far this year, they have a reputation to uphold. That the drug they seek costs about $1,200 per dose – drugs used in executions have risen in cost 15 times in the past few years – seems not to bother anyone. Nor does the idea that even pentobarbital may soon be unavailable to them. As Kent Scheiddeger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said last year, “Any barbiturate will do it.” Charming.
It is telling that the drug Texas is so desperate for is used, in civilized places, to put down animals. The fact that the state has killed 503 people since the death penalty was reinstated there in 1974 points to their belief that death is the only fit punishment in too many cases. Despite 12 death row inmates – so far – having been found innocent and freed, Texas keeps on keeping on with its philosophy of murder-as-punishment.
The U.S. is one of only 23 countries that still engage in this barbaric practice, coming in at number five behind China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen. When will we join the civilized nations of the world and stop this?