Texas will change the three-drug cocktail it uses to execute condemned criminals — switching from the difficult-to-get sodium thiopental to the pentobarbital, officials confirmed this morning.
Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the new drug will be used for the first time in the nation’s busiest execution chamber in the scheduled April 5 execution of convicted murderer Clive Foster.
The change marks the first time since December 1982 that Texas has changed its three-drug formula used in executions.
In the last year, the only U.S. supplier of sodium thiopental discontinued production and Texas and other states had been unable to find another supplier to continue executions. Texas’ on-hand supply expires at the end of this month.
Sodium thipopental is a short-acting barbiturate, the second of three drugs it uses to carry out executions. Pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride are the other two drugs.
In recent months, Oklahoma and Ohio earlier switched to pentobarbital — a surgical sedative and barbiturate commonly used for enthanasia of animals —because of the supply problem.
Lyons said the state has purchased enough pentobarbital to carry out the next five executions. She said five grams of pentobarbitol will be used, instead of three grams of sodium thiopental.
A legal challenge to the change is expected.
In a statement, Maurie Levin, Foster’s attorney, criticized the last-minute switch, when they have known for months that their supply of sodium thiopental was about to expire.
“The timing of the decision and disclosure raises serious concerns about the haste with which they are seeking to implement this new process, and a lack of transparency by state officials,” she said. “To permit less than three weeks for these matters to be vetted undermines any faith we can have in TDCJ’s concern for deliberate process, accountability, or the constitutionality of the new procedures.
“Moreover, Texas is rushing to carry out an execution using an entirely new protocol, but they refuse to fully disclose basic information, such as whether any medical authorities were consulted regarding the incorporation of a new drug; the source of the pentobarbitol; and the training of personnel who will implement the new procedure for the first time.”
Levin noted that the decision for the change was not made by medical professionals. Lyons said Rick Thaler, head of the agency’s prisons division, authorized the drug switch.
Even so, Lyons said courts have allowed other states to switch.
“Oklahoma has successfully used the drug in its execution process and our protocol would be the same as the one used by Oklahoma,” Lyons said. Ironically, Texas adopted its initial three-drug cocktail in 1982 from one proposed in Oklahoma.
Texas has five executions scheduled between April and July. Last year, 17 criminals were executed, the most of any state, among the more than 450 executions Texas had carried out during the past 25 years.
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