A new report surfaced on Tuesday that Texas again might be running out of a key
drug used to execute its condemned criminals, but state prison officials said
that they have enough to carry out the next 6 scheduled executions.
What happens after that might be anyone's guess, thanks to a new no-disclosure
policy imposed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on details about the
2 years ago, the prison system revealed its drug supplier and the amount of
drugs on hand after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion saying
it was public information. The prison system had sought to keep the information
secret, arguing that releasing details about the drug supply might trigger
violent protests outside the execution chamber or embolden death penalty
Prison system spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday that the agency is seeking
another opinion from the attorney general on the execution drug information
"because the law has changed and due to changing circumstances."
Specifically, Clark said, a state Supreme Court ruling last July could have
changed the situation. The case, filed by the Austin American-Statesman and
other newspapers, sought travel vouchers for the governor's security detail
under the Texas Public Information Act.
In that case, the Supreme Court ruled, for the 1st time, that safety concerns
might trump laws mandating public disclosure of information that reveals how a
government spends taxpayer money.
Texas operates the busiest death chamber in the United States, executing more
than twice as many prisoners last year as any other state — 13 in all. Its
execution practices have made it a target of death penalty opponents for years.
The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported Tuesday that Texas has only enough
pentobarbital on hand to complete 6 executions "and may be incapable of
carrying out further death sentences after June."
The newspaper quoted Maya Foa, a London-based investigator for Reprieve, an
international group that opposes the death penalty.
Based on state inventory records from a year ago, she estimated that Texas
probably has 27 vials of pentobarbital, more commonly known by the brand name
Nembutal, left on hand — and the sole U.S. supplier of the powerful sedative
has blocked its availability for use in future executions.
Privately, some prison officials suggested Tuesday that Texas has enough
pentobarbital for more than 6 executions. But even so, other public documents
hint that Texas and other states face a new difficulty in obtaining
pentobarbital in the future.
In January 2011, the Danish pharmaceutical company H. Lundbeck A/S announced
that it would prohibit sales of Nembutal for use in executions. That
restriction was continued when the firm sold the trademark drug and 2 others to
Akorn Inc., an Illinois pharmaceutical firm, in December 2011, according to a
statement about the transaction.
Echoing previous sentiments from other death penalty opponents and open
government advocates, Foa said transparency in the process is a key.
"Given the recent controversies over execution drugs — illegal imports, botched
executions, faulty drugs, etc. — you'd think that a department of corrections
would be doing all it could to show that it was acting legitimately and
lawfully," she said in an e-mail from London.
Texas faced the same problem 13 months ago, when the sole U.S. manufacturer of
the sedative sodium thiopental permanently halted production after authorities
in Italy, where it was made, demanded a guarantee that it would not be used in
executions — a promise the company said it could not give.
At the time, Texas and 33 other states used sodium thiopental in executions. In
Texas, the drug was one of three used to sedate and paralyze a convict and then
stop the heart.
Texas subsequently switched to pentobarbital. A barbiturate, it is commonly
used to euthanize animals — and other states, including Oklahoma and Georgia,
now use it in executions as a replacement for sodium thiopental.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)