The cost of lethal injection drugs used in the US to kill criminals on death
row has risen dramatically over the past year. The increase comes as their
manufacturers move to prevent them being used in executions.
The state of Texas is scheduled to spend $1,286.86 (£811) to kill Keith
Thurmond on Wednesday night.
Thurmond, a 52-year-old former air-conditioning technician, was convicted in
2002 of killing his estranged wife and her lover in an argument over child
A little after 18:00 local time (midnight GMT), Texas prison officials will
strap Thurmond to a gurney and pump a cocktail of 3 drugs into his arm.
The cost of the death drugs has risen 15-fold since 2010, when the mixture cost
the state $86 (£55).
A toxic cocktail - drugs used in lethal injection
Pentobarbital or thiopental sodium: Strong sedatives render the condemned
person unconscious, administered in a dose intended to be lethal on its own
Pancuronium bromide: Paralyses the muscles, causing breathing to cease and
preventing involuntary movement during the death
Potassium chloride: Stops the heart
[source: BBC research]
That is because the drug formerly used to sedate the patient, thiopental
sodium, is no longer available, having been pulled off the market in 2010.
As a result, Texas and several other states switched to another sedative,
pentobarbital. The drug is significantly more expensive - and it may soon
become impossible for capital punishment prisons to purchase.
"Even though it is a small amount in the big scheme of things, it represents
one more spiralling expense that makes the death penalty less reliable and more
costly," says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center in Washington DC.
Rivas was sentenced to die for killing a man after a prison escape "From a
cost-benefit analysis, the scales tip away from keeping capital punishment."
Volumes of research have suggested the death penalty is significantly more
expensive to taxpayers than the punishment of life in prison, due largely to
the lengthy legal processes involved.
Fundamentally, it stems from the use of what opponents say is a barbaric,
antiquated mode of punishment within a sophisticated legal system ostensibly
aimed at ensuring the rights of the accused, preventing punishment of the
innocent, and executing human beings without causing them too much physical
pain and suffering.
Aside from Texas, most US states seldom carry out executions. But even those
that do must spend billions of dollars to defend the death sentence against
prisoners' appeals and to house the condemned securely and what they see as
California, for instance, has spent about $4bn (£2.54bn) since 1978 to fund its
capital punishment system, but has executed only 13 prisoners, Federal Judge
Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell found in a law
In that same period, at least 78 death row inmates died of natural causes,
suicide or other causes while awaiting execution, they wrote.
In Washington state, one prosecutor told a committee of the state bar
association that capital cases are at least four times as costly to prosecute
as a non-capital murder trial.
"The rarefied nature of a death penalty case results in more motions being
brought and more advocacy being presented, which further adds to the time and
costs of a capital case," the commission reported in 2006.
Medical supplies to end a life - North Carolina's costs, 2009
Saline solution: $2.13
IV kit: $37.26
Thiopental sodium: $81.12
Pancuronium bromide: $34.25
Potassium chloride: $7.75
[source: Independent Weekly of Durham, North Carolina; North Carolina
Department of Correction]
The on-the-day costs of the execution vary from state to state, but are
relatively small compared to the costs the states incur on the way to the death
The state of Washington spent $97,814 (£62,004) to execute Cal Brown in 2010.
Most of that was staff pay, but the state also had to hire fencing and lighting
for the demonstration outside the prison, a tent for news media, food for the
special security teams, and counselling for staff, says Maria Peterson, a
spokeswoman for the Washington department of corrections.
Also, the thiopental sodium used to sedate the convicted murderer cost $861.60
(£546), she says.
Ronnie Lee Gardner's 2010 execution by firing squad cost Utah $165,000
(£105,000). Most of that was staff pay, but $25,000 (£15,800) went on materials
used in the execution, including the chair to which he was strapped and the
jumpsuit he wore, a corrections spokesman told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Washington state paid for counselling for staff after Cal Brown's execution The
execution of rapist and murderer Robert Coe in 2000 cost Tennessee $11,668
(£7,395), according to a report by the state comptroller. That included medical
supplies and personnel and the death drugs.
The cost of the death drugs in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and other states has risen
as manufacturers pull the drugs off the market, not wanting to supply
pharmaceutical products used to end lives.
Texas and other states switched the sedative used to render the condemned
person unconscious from thiopental sodium to pentobarbital last year after the
only US maker of the drug, Hospira, said it was pulling the drug off the market
in order to avoid a row with authorities in Italy, where the drug was
In December, the European Commission ordered EU firms wanting to export drugs
that can be used in lethal injections to ensure the product is not going to be
used for executions.
Indian producer Kayem Pharmaceuticals has also said it will no longer sell
thiopental sodium drug to US prisons.
It is unclear how long pentobarbital, the current replacement drug, will be
The only company approved by US drug regulators to market the sedative in the
US, Danish pharmaceutical giant Lundbeck, has just sold the drug to Illinois
company Akorn, which has pledged to restrict distribution of it to prevent it
being sent to prisons in capital punishment states.
Executions in 2010
96 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes
23 countries carried out executions
China: 1,000s (lethal injection)
Iran: 252+ (hanging)
North Korea: 60+ (hanging)
Yemen: 53+ (shooting)
US: 46 (lethal injection, electrocution)
Saudi Arabia: 27+ (beheading)
Syria: 17+ (hanging)
Bangladesh: 9+ (hanging)
Somalia: 8+ (shooting)
[source: Amnesty International, BBC research]
Now, purchasers must sign a form affirming they will use the drug, normally
used to treat epilepsy and other conditions, on their own patients and not
resell it without authorisation.
The difficulty obtaining the death drugs illustrates the problems inherent in
lethal injection as an execution method, says Kent Scheiddeger, legal director
of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty.
"It amounts to medicalising a procedure that shouldn't have anything to do with
medicine," he says.
"It's supposed to be punishment - it shouldn't be this quasi-medical procedure.
It just strikes me as wrong and now we have all these additional complications.
Manufacturers, particularly in Europe, try to meddle in things that are none of
their business and try to cut off the supply."
Mr Scheidegger does not foresee a halt to executions forced by a lack of drugs,
as the executioners can merely change the ingredients in the cocktail, he says.
"Any barbiturate will do it," he says.
(source: BBC News)