Dwindling supplies of lethal injection drugs have forced death penalty states to find new methods of carrying out the punishment. Some have turned to specialty pharmacies, who critics say are less safe than traditional manufacturers. One Oklahoma pharmacy, following a lawsuit by a death-row Missouri inmate, said it will not supply the necessary execution drugs.
Compounding pharmacies, so named because they specialize in producing customized drugs – such as removing ingredients that provoke allergic reactions – have stepped up to provide their services for some correctional facilities. But recent incidents have raised concerns about the quality of the tailor-made drugs.
“Traditionally, when we had access to manufactured medications in the departments of corrections, there were specific protocols: Use X amount of this drug, Y amount of that drug. Now, because those medications aren’t available, we’re seeing corrections facilities and the physicians involved in lethal injection beginning to develop new protocols, which may or may not have been tested,” said David Miller, CEO of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, to Steven Inskee, host of NPR’s Morning Edition.
[READ: U.S. Executions Dipped in 2013]
The Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa, Okla., said it will not supply Missouri with pentobarbital or any similar cocktail that could be used to execute Michael Taylor this month, reported The Associated Press. Pentobarbital is an anesthetic that induces a loss of "consciousness, sensation and memory," according to the Center for Public Integrity. In the last three years, 12 states have used pentobarbital, often as part of a three-step cocktail.
However, a spokesman for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, told NBC, "Missouri is still prepared to carry out the execution next week."
Scott Holste, the governor's spokesman, would not expand on the means by which the state plans to execute Taylor on Feb. 26.
Court documents have requested that the judge drop the case. Taylor’s lawyers filed suit against the Tulsa pharmacy in an attempt to block the drugstore from offering the lethal drug and a hearing is expected to take place Tuesday, according to the AP.
Taylor is being executed for the 1989 abduction, rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Kansas City, Mo. He pleaded guilty to the crime in 1991, according to court documents.
Taylor’s attorney Matt Hellman said the pharmacy has not, as yet, given any drugs to the Missouri Department of Corrections, reported the AP.
In an email to U.S. News the Tulsa pharmacy confirmed Taylor had filed a lawsuit against the store. Sarah Lees, the store's marketing coordinator wrote, “The Apothecary Shoppe expressly denies all allegations in that lawsuit. Mr. Taylor has dismissed his lawsuit with prejudice against The Apothecary Shoppe."
In the last few years, death penalty states have become more and more reliant on specialty pharmacies as large-scale drug manufacturers have curbed production of drugs used in executions. In 2011, the European Union bolstered certain export controls by requiring all European companies to demand American buyers provide proof that these drugs would not be used in executions. Thinning supply lines have delayed executions across the U.S., reported The New York Times.
The death penalty is banned throughout Europe.
In October 2013, Nixon delayed the execution of Allen Nicklasson, after the European Union said it would block the supply of a certain lethal drug if the execution continued, according to the St. Louis Post- Dispatch.
Nicklasson was eventually executed in December.
Opponents of lethal injection say the method causes “extreme and unnecessary pain” and that it violates the Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishments,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center. According to the center, capital punishment is legal in 32 states, while 18 states and Washington, D.C. have abolished the practice.
The Food and Drug Administration has no power to inspect compound pharmacies or regulate their procedures, however a bill that would give the FDA limited authority is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature, according to NBC.