The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio in 2005.
COLUMBUS — Ohio will keep the powerful sedative pentobarbital as its primary method of executing inmates, but will fall back on another form when it can’t get the drug from its Danish manufacturer who objects to its use in executions.
“The new policy also allows for use of pentobarbital as obtained from a compounding pharmacy,” said JoEllen Smith, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. She declined to reveal the name of the compounding pharmacy.
The department’s new execution protocol already provided for a backup method of lethal injection in the event the medical team could not find useable veins through which the drug could flow. That involved directly injecting two drugs, the sedative midazolam and morphine-derivative hydromorphone, into the condemned inmate’s muscles.
The new policy calls for the use of those two drugs in intravenous form to kill the inmate as a third option before falling back to the last-resort option of the muscle injections.
“The primary method remains pentobarbital,” Ms. Smith said. “However, if that is unattainable or unuseabe for whatever reason, midazolam and hydromorephone would be an IV option. The secondary backup that existed in the previous policy in the event an IV couldn’t be established still exists in the new policy.”
The new policy is expected to be filed with U.S. District Court in Columbus, which is presiding over a continuing challenge to Ohio’s lethal injection process. The latest change in protocol is expected to ignite more legal challenges, as well as ethical questions surrounding the idea of having a compounding pharmacy do an end-run around the drug’s manufacturer to build from scratch a variation of the same drug with the intention to kill someone.
Other states like Texas and Georgia have also recently turned to compounding pharmacies when they’ve run out of pentobarbital because of its manufacturer’s objections.
“DRC management staff reviewed available information from other states and considered various options and also discussed those options with members of the execution team,” Ms. Smith said.
Last week, Ohio was believed to have used the last of its supply of pentobarbital to execute Harry Mitts, Jr., who killed two people, including a Cleveland area police officer, 19 years ago. It had told the court that it would have to revise its protocol before executing Ronald R. Phillip on Nov. 14. He was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering his Akron girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in 1993.