Pentobarbital Supply and Demand for Execution Drugs

 This week, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to consider the case coming out of Texas, where Death Row inmates petitioned SCOTUS to review their claims that Texas’ use of pentobarbital in lethal injection executions is cruel and unusual punishment.

Seems Texas has a stash of pentobarbital that it got from a compounding pharmacy and Texas isn’t sharing the identity of its drug supplier.  One key factor here:  how old is this stuff, and how far beyond its expiration date.  

Given that the High Court’s action this week, it appears the Lone Star State is free to proceed with lethal injections using its secret drug stash.  Ditto other states with similar Death Row drug pantries.  (At least for now.)

See: Texas Has A Top-Secret Execution Method

Executioner’s Drug Supply

What’s happening here?  For states that approve of capital punishment, there's a growing crisis because they are finding it harder and harder to get the drugs needed for their execution protocols. The inmate is scheduled to die by lethal injection, but that’s only going to happen if they’ve got the drugs.

Either the big drug companies are refusing to supply executioners with the drugs, or Big Pharma simply stopped manufacturing them.  

See Pfizer Bans Use of Its Products in U.S. Executions

States have tried to find solutions to their supply problem.  Some looked to foreign markets.  Attempts to shop overseas have been thwarted by the Department of Justice. 

See DEA is Grabbing Up All the Sodium Thiopental? No Wonder Pentobarbital Is Popular in Executions

Others tried to change the lethal drug cocktail recipe.  In order to continue executing under the lethal injection method, there were some who altered the drugs contained in the traditional lethal three-drug cocktail.  Others tossed out the idea of a cocktail and went forward with a single drug protocol as an execution device. 

So, when states can find lethal execution drugs, it’s a big deal.  They place big orders so they have a secure supply for the future.  And they keep their suppliers secret, worried that others will pressure the supplier to stop providing execution drugs or that these suppliers will be snapped up by competing states in need of lethal drugs themselves. 

Consider Missouri. 

Back in 2014, Missouri grabbed a bunch of phenobarbital and held it as its lethal execution inventory.  The supplier’s name was given a code to be used in official documents to keep the identity of the pharmacy secret.

Of course, lawsuits were filed to try and reveal the supplier’s identity.  Many of these suits were filed by Death Row inmates seeking to know who the source of their chemical executioner. 

Recently, BuzzFeed revealed that Missouri’s drug supplier is a pharmacy named Foundation Care.  Seems Foundation Care has a reputation for “hazardous pharmaceutical procedures” – but whether or not it’s still available as a supplier of execution drugs is in doubt. 

The compounding pharmacy was purchased by Centene Corporation, and in the BuzzFeed report Centene insists that “Foundation Care has never supplied, and will never supply any pharmaceutical product to any state for the purpose of effectuating executions.”

Nevermind that BuzzFeed has 2 sources confirming Foundation Care supplied the lethal drugs for 17 Missouri executions.

So, has the source dried up?  Dunno. How much does Missouri have in its execution pantry?  Dunno.

Read the complete BuzzFeed expose, written by Chris McDaniel, entitled "The Secretive Company Behind Missouri's Lethal Injections." 

What Happens Next?

Something else to consider here:  if the states cannot find lethal drugs, or they cannot use the drugs they have, then will this stop the executions? 

Or will it push states to consider older execution methods, which are still legally available to them like the electric chair, gas chamber, firing squad, or hanging?





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