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Texas Changing Its Lethal Injection Protocol

via Texas Tribune

Texas will join a handful of states that use a single drug in lethal injections, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Tuesday. 

"Implementing the change in protocol at this time will ensure that the agency is able to fulfill its statutory responsibility for all executions currently scheduled," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said in an email.

For Yokamon Hearn's scheduled execution on July 18, officials plan to administer a lethal dose of pentobarbital instead of the three-drug cocktail that has been used since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1982. Clark said the decision to change the protocol came because the state's supply of one of the other drugs that had been used in the protocol — pancuronium bromide — had expired and TDCJ was unable to obtain more.

"The agency currently has an adequate supply of pentobarbital to carry out all scheduled executions," Clark said. Currently, nine inmates are scheduled to be executed between July 18 and Nov. 14. Clark said that courts have upheld the use of the single-drug protocol as constitutional.

Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that is often used in animal euthanasia, but states began using it more widely in lethal injections last year. Ohio was the first state to switch to the single-drug protocol using pentobarbital in March 2011. 

Illinois-based Hospira Inc. sent Texas and other death penalty states scrambling last year when it announced in January that it would stop selling sodium thiopental, part of the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections in Texas. which Hospira had planned to manufacture the drug in an Italian plant, but authorities in that country wanted a guarantee that the drug would not be used in executions. 

But pentobarbital has some of the same troubles as sodium thiopental. The drug is only available from one company operating in the United States, Lundbeck Inc., based in Denmark, a country that also opposes the death penalty. Lundbeck has asked states not to use the drug in executions.

The Austin American-Statesmanreported last month that the TDCJ stockpiled supplies of pentobarbital last spring when concerns about the supply of death penalty drugs arose around the country.

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.