Ohio to use untested execution drugs combination

The state will use a combination of two drugs due to a shortage of pentobarbital

Ohio plans on using a previously untested combination of execution drugs.
AP Photo/Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Corrections

Ohio said Monday that it does not have enough of the drug pentobarbital to carry out a scheduled execution next month and will turn to a combination of two drugs that a death-penalty expert said has never been used before in the United States.

Ohio is the latest of several U.S. states looking to new suppliers or new drugs for use in lethal injections. With major pharmaceutical companies discouraging use of their products in executions, these states have tapped lightly regulated "compounding pharmacies" or turned to new drugs for executions.

The Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, Lundbeck LLC , has banned its sale to prisons or corrections departments for the death penalty. The European Union, which includes Denmark, is opposed to the death penalty and has put pressure on U.S. states to stop the practice.

Ohio prison officials notified the state Monday that they do not have "sufficient quantity" of pentobarbital to carry out the execution of Ronald Phillips on Nov. 14, according to Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. Phillips was convicted in 1993 of raping and murdering his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

She said the state will turn to a combination of the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone for the November execution.

"No other state has used these two drugs in an execution," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

Florida used midazolam along with two other drugs in an execution on Oct. 15, but not with hydromorphone, he said.

According to the Food and Drug Administration database of drugs, midazolam injections are marketed by a number of companies including Fresenius Kabi USA, a unit of the German drugmaker. And hydromorphone and midazolam are both marketed by Hospira Inc and Akorn.

Fresenius Kabi suspended shipments of another drug, propofol, to a U.S. distributor earlier this year after the German company learned that some of it had been sold to Missouri for executions. Missouri eventually returned the drug.

Hospira started the scramble for alternative drugs in 2011 when it halted production of the only source in the U.S. of sodium thiopental, then widely used in executions.

Ohio did not say where it purchased supplies of midazolam and hydromorphone. A lawyer for Phillips declined to comment.

Ohio earlier this month published a new execution guideline that allowed the state to seek pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy, a type of supplier that is not closely regulated by the FDA. Compounding pharmacies still have supplies of pentobarbital but run the risk of public criticism if they supply the drug for executions and their name becomes public.

The name of a Houston company that had provided pentobarbital to the state of Texas, The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, was disclosed earlier this month, prompting a strong complaint from the company that it had been promised secrecy by the state.


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