Missouri announces new lethal injection drug
The gurney in the death chamber is shown in this May 27, 2008 file photo from Huntsville, Texas. (AP / Pat Sullivan)
Published Tuesday, October 22, 2013 5:52PM EDT
ST. LOUIS -- The Missouri Department of Corrections said Tuesday it is switching to a new lethal injection drug, less than two weeks after the governor halted executions until it could find a replacement for the anesthetic propofol.
The Corrections Department said in a news release that it will use the sedative pentobarbital. Death Penalty Information Center director Richard Dieter said 13 states use the drug for executions. He said every execution but one over the past two years in the U.S. used pentobarbital.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Oct. 11 halted the execution of Allen Nicklasson, scheduled for Oct. 23, in part because the European Union was weighing export limits on propofol if it was used in an execution. Propofol is a widely used anesthetic and is mostly made in Europe. Nixon, a Democrat, ordered a halt to all executions until the issue was resolved.
The execution of Joseph Franklin on Nov. 20 is still on, the news release stated. Franklin was convicted of killing Gerald Gordon in 1977 as a crowd dispersed from a bar mitzvah in suburban St. Louis. Two others were wounded. When he confessed 17 years later, Franklin was serving several life sentences in a federal prison for killing two black joggers in Salt Lake City and an interracial couple in Madison, Wisconsin, and bombing a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
It wasn't immediately clear how much pentobarbital Missouri has. Messages seeking comment from Corrections Department spokesman David Owen were not immediately returned. Franklin's attorneys did not respond to interview requests.
States have been scrambling to find execution drug alternatives in recent years because manufacturers don't want their products used in executions. Missouri last carried out an execution in 2011. It had previously used a three-drug method but switched to propofol in April 2012. It was the only state to make that switch, but no executions were ever carried out with propofol, a drug that made headlines in 2009 when pop star Michael Jackson died of an overdose.
Missouri is also adding a compounding pharmacy to its execution team, which will be responsible for providing pentobarbital for executions, the news release said. Typically, compounding pharmacists process ingredients to fit the needs of individual patients.
Elizabeth Carlyle, a Kansas City attorney who represents several death row inmates, said the new protocol "is certainly something we have some concerns about, but I can't say much more than that until we've had a chance to talk to our experts and look into it some more."
Texas and Ohio area among other states that have turned to compounding pharmacies to prepare new batches of pentobarbital after large drug manufacturers balked.
For executions, Dieter said compounding pharmacies "work with the raw ingredients and are able to put together single dosages" of pentobarbital. Drugs manufactured by compounding pharmacies aren't regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raising questions among death penalty opponents and public health watchdogs.
"It's critical that the dosage be potent and pure," Dieter said. "You don't want adverse reactions or a very lengthy process."
Compounding pharmacies have a checkered past. A deadly nationwide meningitis outbreak last year in which 64 people died and 750 others sickened was traced to a tainted steroid custom-made by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.
Such businesses also risk public backlash once their identities are revealed. A suburban Houston compounding pharmacy that supplied a special batch of pentobarbital to the Texas prison where an inmate was executed this month asked to have the drug returned after complaining about hate mail and negative publicity.
It wasn't clear if or when a new execution date would be set for Nicklasson, convicted of the 1994 killing of Excelsior Springs businessman Richard Drummond after Drummond stopped along Interstate 70 to help after a car carrying Nicklasson and two others became disabled. Another of the trio, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009.