Ohio weighs options for its execution drug

Alternate needed if shortage occurs

The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Prison officials said they may using of a compounding pharmacy to develop a drug for executions.
The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Prison officials said they may using of a compounding pharmacy to develop a drug for executions.

COLUMBUS — Ohio will turn to an alternative version of the powerful sedative pentobarbital for executions if it can’t get the drug from the manufacturer blocking its use for killing people.

“The new policy allows for use of pentobarbital as obtained from a compounding pharmacy,” said JoEllen Smith, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, on Friday. She said a compounding pharmacy source has not yet been found.

States such as Texas and Georgia have turned to compounding pharmacies when they run out of the drug, and the changes have led to new litigation.

“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.

The department’s revised execution protocol, filed with U.S. District Court in Columbus, also provides for a third option if neither version of pentobarbital is found.

Two drugs, the sedative midazolam and morphine-derivative hydromorphone, are currently identified to be injected directly into the condemned inmate’s muscles as a last resort if usable veins can’t be found.

But they could now be used instead in intravenous form in the absence of pentobarbital.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost is presiding over a continuing challenge to Ohio’s lethal injection process.

Allen Bohnert, an assistant federal public defender representing some of those involved in the lawsuit, said it’s too early to know how the changes would affect the litigation.

“On first glance, it appears the state is trying to use compounded pentobarbital,” he said. “We’re disappointed that Ohio has chosen to turn to an unregulated, questionable source for execution drugs.”

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 informed 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.

Arings Compound Corner Inc., at 6725 W. Central Ave., Toledo, compounds nonintravenous drugs on demand. It does not deal with pentobarbital.

“[Compounding] is patient specific,” said Rich Rohaley, Arings pharmacist. “We deal with strength, dosage form, and delivery system that are unique to a patient who may require these to have optimal or effective therapy. We change the vehicle when appropriate for the patient and adjust it to any strength.”

The use of a practice designed to help patients to instead execute them could raise the same kind of ethical questions that led the Danish maker of pentobarbital to make it unavailable for that purpose.

“In all of my practice in pharmacy for 12 and a half years — and there’s another gentleman here who’s been practicing 40 years — we’ve never seen a drug purposely manufactured or compounded for that use,” Mr. Rohaley said. “I would never go through with a compound knowing that it was intended for that use. There’s liability, and my license would be on the line as well.”

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.