Animal euthanasia drug to be used on death row

Deborah Denno in Dayton Daily News, January 25, 2011

Media Source

By Tom Beyerlein
, Staff Writer
10:06 PM Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ohio’s prison system is switching to a high dose of pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals and as a sedative during major surgery, as the lethal drug it will use to execute condemned killers, officials announced Tuesday.

The switch is due to a national shortage of sodium thiopental, which is currently used in Ohio executions.

“We feel the new drug meets Ohio’s requirements and we plan to move forward,” said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

The change in protocol won’t affect the execution of Cleveland’s Frank Spisak, set for Feb. 17, but will be used in the March 10 scheduled execution of Johnnie Baston of Toledo and thereafter, “pending further legal developments,” LoParo said.

Corrections officials have notified U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost of Columbus, who is presiding over an ongoing class-action federal challenge to the constitutionality of Ohio’s execution methods.

The suit is prompted by the 2009 attempted execution of Rommell Broom, which was called off after executioners couldn’t find a viable vein for the insertion of intravenous lines.

Attorneys for the inmates in the case also were notified.

Oklahoma in December became the first state to use pentobarbital, in conjunction with other drugs, and has used it in three executions.

LoParo said pentobarbital will be used in the same dosage as sodium thiopental, which has been in increasingly short supply.

Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., sodium thiopental’s sole U.S. supplier, stopped producing it more than a year ago because of shortages of raw materials. Hospira announced Friday it would not resume production after Italian authorities refused to allow the drug’s production at a plant there unless the company could guarantee it wouldn’t be used for executions. Britain also has banned the drug’s export for use in executions.

A Corrections news release said pentobarbital is “widely available and manufactured in the United States,” and LoParo said it is manufactured primarily for hospital use.

Food and Drug Administration spokesman Christopher Kelly said Lundbeck Inc. of Denmark “is the only firm marketing pentobarbital injections. We are not aware of any shortage of this drug.”

Law Professor Deborah Denno of Fordham University in New York, a death penalty expert, said controversies overseas about drugs being used for executions in the U.S. “speaks volumes” about how the U.S. is “isolated” in the world community about capital punishment.

“We’re relying on companies in countries that are against the death penalty” to supply the lethal drugs, she said. “With lethal injection, it’s become an ugly international issue.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.