By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Texas, the state with the
highest execution rate in the country, is running out of a
sedative used in its three-drug cocktail for lethal injections
for the second time in 13 months, a state official said on
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark
confirmed that the state's supply of pentobarbital, which has
been used in the execution of condemned killers in the state
since July 2012, will reach its expiration date in September.
Texas switched to pentobarbital, a barbiturate that is the
drug of choice for physician-assisted suicide in Europe, when
supplies of sodium thiopental, previously used by the state in
its three-drug execution mix, were cut off.
The Illinois-based pharmaceutical company Hospira Inc said
in 2011 it would stop making thiopental after the government of
Italy, where it planned to move production of the drug, raised
objections, citing its use in executions.
Richard Dieter, who heads the Death Penalty Information
Center, said Texas and other states that were forced to switch
from thiopental are now facing a problem with the availability
of pentobarbital, which is often used to euthanize pets and
Texas has executed 11 inmates so far in 2013 - including one
Wednesday night - while 10 executions have been carried out
elsewhere in the country. Officials said there are five more
Texas executions scheduled for this year with the next one set
for Sept. 19.
Clark said Texas is confident it will be able to continue
executions but did not say whether September's execution may
have to be delayed.
"Alternate sources of pentobarbital are possible, or an
alternate drug," he said.
Dieter said all executions carried out in the United States
during the past 13 months have used pentobarbital. He said some
states are in the process of obtaining the necessary legal
approval to switch to other sedatives.
One option is the surgical anesthetic propofol, which was
blamed for the 2009 death of singer Michael Jackson and has been
used in executions by the state of Missouri.
But this drug raises a similar problem. The British-based
company that markets it, AstraZeneca, has said that after the
Missouri execution it will not allow any of its products to be
exported for use in capital punishment.
States might consider turning to so-called compounding
pharmacies, small laboratories that can remix existing narcotics
to fill specific needs, generally on the order of a doctor,
Dieter said. But compounding pharmacies might also be reluctant
to cooperate on moral grounds.
"They have their own ethics," he said. "I'm not sure that
will be a fruitful way to go."
Texas has executed 503 prisoners - more than any other state
since a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming capital
(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Bill
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