Death-Penalty States Scramble to Find New Drug

Even though it takes 10 minutes longer to kill people
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2014 3:33 PM CST
Since 2012, Executions Taking 10 Minutes Longer
The gurney in the death chamber is shown in this May 27, 2008 file photo from Huntsville, Texas.    (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

A new drug for fatal injections is not only hard to find, it takes twice as long to kill people. US death penalty states like Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana are struggling to find lethal drugs for capital punishment, thanks to a worldwide ethical embargo against pharmaceutical companies selling drugs to US departments of corrections, the Guardian reports. So those states are turning from a three-drug cocktail to one drug, pentobarbital—which takes an average of 20 minutes to kill rather than the cocktail's 10. But does the prolonged death equal inhumane treatment of the prisoner?

An anesthesiologist says it's hard to know—there isn't enough research yet—but the way states are procuring pentobarbital raises additional questions. Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana simply asked pharmacies to make the drug (the New York Times slammed such states for entering "a largely unregulated world" of pharmaceuticals). But Louisiana is stuck: It couldn't get any pentobarbital to execute child-killer Christopher Sepulvado on Wednesday, The Lens reports. Officials could try some other drug combination, as Ohio did in executing inmate Dennis McGuire last month—but he spent 26 minutes gasping for breath, the AP reports, and his last words were, "I feel my whole body burning." (Read more execution stories.)

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