Lethal Injection Drug Shortage Continues, Legal Issues Mount

by Gabe Bullard on April 5, 2011

States attempting to replace a hard-to-find lethal injection drug with a potential alternative are facing another legal hurdle.

There is currently no domestic source for sodium thiopental. Kentucky recently turned its supply of the drug over to the U.S. Justice Department due to questions about its origins. There is a replacement drug, but the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked an execution in Texas that was to be the state’s first using it.

The high court determined that Texas officials did not properly change the state’s lethal injection protocol to accommodate a different formula. Kentucky Justice Cabinet spokesperson Jennifer Brislin says the difficulty in changing the protocol is one reason why the commonwealth will not likely look for substitute drugs any time soon.

“It’s a process that would take about six months. It would involve hearings and it would have the potential to open itself up for more challenges,” she says. “Right now we have confidence in the protocol that’s been adopted. It’s been taken all the way up to the Supreme Court. We don’t have any concerns about that. Of course, if we open that process back up, there is that opportunity for people to come back in and challenge.”

Brislin says state officials will continue to look for a legal source of sodium thiopental and are not yet considering changing the lethal injection formula. All executions in Kentucky are currently on hold, per a court injunction.

Reverend Patrick Delahanty with the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty says lawmakers could avoid such difficulties by ending capital punishment.

“We can’t carry out the law right now so maybe we should revise the law so that justice is done,” he says.

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