FRANKFORT, Ky. — Now that the lone manufacturer of a key drug used in executions has ceased production of the drug, corrections administrators and state officials are reviewing options for a replacement.
In emails obtained by The Associated Press through the state’s open records law, Deputy Corrections Commissioner Al Parke discussed switching to a different drug with John Dallas, vice president of operations for Correctional Medical Services, a company that provides medical supplies and medications to the corrections industry.
Dallas told Parke in early August that sodium methoexital could be used as a replacement. He also said that the company had run out of sodium thiopental.
“You would want to consult your pharmacist and physician on dosages, and probably have to look at if your protocol will allow a different drug,” Dallas wrote.
Hospira Inc., based in Lake Forest, Ill., announced late last month that it would stop making sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, due to international constraints. The company was planning to produce the drug at its plant in Italy but Italian officials said they would not permit its export if it would be used in capital punishment, which is illegal in the European Union.
Gov. Steve Beshear and Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said no decisions have been made about whether to switch to another drug or to a single-drug execution. Oklahoma and Ohio recently announced a switch to a single dose of pentobarbital, a sedative used in assisted suicides. Sodium thiopental is one of three drugs used in a combination drug execution.
Brislin did say, however, that Kentucky would not import sodium thiopental from overseas. Georgia and Arizona recently bought the drug from a British manufacturer and Nebraska from a drug maker in India.
Kentucky’s lethal injection law allows the state to use a single drug or a combination of drugs to execute condemned offenders, but is very specific on which drugs should be used and the order and dosages at which they should be administered. It currently calls for sodium thiopental to be injected first, followed by pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest. Saline is also administered in between each drug.
Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty leader Rev. Patrick Delahanty, said the state should outlaw executions.
“Lacking the drugs to carry out the death penalty is added evidence that the system is broken,” Delahanty told reporters.
“Finding another drug, which would require going through the whole regulatory process again, and wasting taxpayer dollars on more litigation, would be the wrong way to go and continue to undermine the credibility of our justice system,” he said.
State officials tried to acquire more sodium thiopental after Hospira announced a nationwide shortage last year, contacting other states and companies to request the drug. But they were unable to locate additional supplies, prompting a Kentucky judge to suspend executions due to uncertainties on how to manage tests for competency, sanity and mental retardation once an inmate’s execution is scheduled.