Texas is running out of lethal drug used to execute death row prisoners

The most active state for executions has confirmed supplies of pentobarbital will expire in September

Texas, America’s most active death penalty state, will run out of the lethal drug pentobarbital used to complete executions when supplies expire in September. 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced on Thursday that they will be unable to use their current supplies after they expire. The single dose sedative replaced the three drug execution process after maintaining supplies of all three became difficult.

“We will be unable to use our current supply of pentobarbital after it expires,” spokesman Jason Clark said. “We are exploring all options at this time.”

It remains unclear whether the two executions scheduled for next month will be delayed as a result.

Pentobarbital is commonly used as a sedative and as a treatment for severe epilepsy.

Drug supplies become harder to maintain as some manufacturers object to them being used for capital punishment, or because of mounting pressure from death penalty opponents.

Since the Supreme Court reintroduced the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed more inmates than any other state. 502 people have been executed by lethal injection since 1982.

Some death penalty states, most recently Georgia, have announced they will turn to compounding pharmacies, which make customized drugs that are not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use.

Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center said: “When Texas raises a flag that's it having a problem, obviously numerically it's significant around in the country because like they're doing half the executions in the country right now.”

“The states really scramble to go all over to get drugs,” he said. “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,” Dieter said.

As of May 2012, Texas had 46 of the 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital, presumably enough to execute as many as 23 prisoners since each execution requires a 5-gram dose. The execution on Wednesday of an inmate convicted in two road-rage killings was the 20th lethal injection since that date.

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