America is running out of lethal injection drugs because of a European embargo to end the death penalty

Texas has only one dose of lethal execution drugs left

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The Independent US

Prison authorities in Texas are one lethal injection away from running out of executioners’ drugs, the state’s justice department has confirmed.

The near-exhaustion of supplies in Texas comes amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs across the United States, prompted by European efforts to keep the poisons out of American hands.

In recent years European countries have imposed export controls on a range of execution drugs in a bid to force American states to stop killing prisoners.

Two of the drugs, pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, are used in the vast majority of executions in the United States, where the death penalty is still commonplace for serious crimes.

The UK unilaterally restricted the export of death penalty drugs to the United States in 2010 under the direction of the Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Abolishing the death penalty across the world is a European Union foreign policy objective

The European Union followed suit at the end of 2011, putting the poisons on a list of controlled exports that could be used as part of “capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

“The decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide,” Catherine Ashton, the vice president of the Commission at the time, said.

While the ban appears to have had an effect, a spokesperson Texas’s justice department told the Independent that the state was looking at alternative drugs to use in its executions.

“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is actively exploring all options at this point including the continued use of pentobarbital or an alternate drug or drugs to use in lethal injections,” he explained.

Other states have taken more drastic measures to circumvent the controls. On Tuesday this week Utah’s state legislature approved proposals to carry out executions by firing square in the event of a drug shortage.

State-level representatives in Oklahoma are even considering a proposal to kill prisoners in gas chambers if supplies of anaesthetics run out.

Some states have had to delay executions because of shortages. Authorities in Ohio delayed at least one killing after an attempt to use an alternative drug was branded “a failed, agonising experiment” because of its slow and distressing effect on its target.

32 US states still practice the death penalty, with the practice abolished in only 18. Partly owing to its size and population, Texas carries out far more executions than any other state.

Abolition of the death penalty is mandatory for countries wanting to join the European Union, and the European Commission describes the practices worldwide abolition as "a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy".