Facing a shortage of lethal injection drugs amid widespread opposition to the death penalty, Missouri has resorted to a controversial method of obtaining lethal drugs that resembles the illicit drug trade more than government policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to halt Wednesday’s execution of Michael Worthington due to concerns about the state’s method of obtaining lethal injection drugs.
That method entails the Missouri Department of Corrections’ (DOC) giving one of its officers $US11,000 in cash and sending him to neighbouring Oklahoma to purchase lethal injection drugs from a secret source, before hand-delivering the drugs to the Department, as the Missouri Times has reported.
St. Louis Public Radio reporter Chris McDaniel told the Reveal radio program he discovered Missouri’s Division of Adult Institutions Director Dave Dormire was taking more than $US11,000 in cash each month to a Tulsa, Oklahoma compounding pharmacy called the Apothecary Shoppe that wasn’t licensed to sell drugs in Missouri. After word got out, Missouri turned to a different supplier, still shrouded in secrecy.
In February, DOC Director George Lombardi admitted a Department official pays for the state’s new execution drug pentobarbital with $US11,000 in cash, before hand-delivering it from Oklahoma, reported The Missouri Times. The method of cash payment, avoiding a paper trail, is necessary because compounding pharmacies refuse to sell execution drugs to states unless they remain anonymous, Lombardi said.
Amid growing opposition to the death penalty, manufacturers of a key ingredient of lethal injections, sodium thiopental, stopped supplying that chemical to state governments by 2011, as Vox has reported. As a result, state governments like Missouri facing shortages of the chemical have had to develop their own modified injections with legally available drugs, and they are keeping the identities of their suppliers secret.
Because the Danish maker of pentobarbital is now refusing to supply that drug to corrections departments, Missouri resorts to compounding pharmacies to make their own versions of pentobarbital, the Associated Press reports.
A Missouri law states that the members of an “execution team,” shall remain confidential, including “individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure.” Oklahoma, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas also have policies or laws that hide details about the content of lethal injection drugs, according to the Miami Herald.
Death Penalty Litigation Center attorney Jacob Luby compared the DOC official to a drug mule and expressed concern with the transport method because the pentobarbital drug needs to be kept frozen rather than at room temperature.
The ACLU has also questioned whether the purchased drugs are pure and if they’d been properly stored and transferred. “When execution teams are buying drugs with cash, we should question why they have taken to the shadows,” ACLU’s Tanya Greene wrote.
Amid the shortage of lethal injection drugs, Missouri switched to using pentobarbital in late 2013, and has since executed eight people with the drug without signs of distress, reports the Associated Press.
Rather than Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona, where the drug midazolam was used in combination with other drugs during recent botched executions, Missouri administers a single large dose of pentobarbital, which is typically used for treating seizures and euthanizing animals.
The ACLU asserts Missouri cannot rightfully carry out an execution because it has not divulged information about its lethal injection drugs, the manufacturer, as well as guarantees that the drugs are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and administered by medically qualified executioners.
We reached out to the Missouri Department of Corrections for comment on the cash transfers. In response, the Department forwarded us a document outlining its lethal injection protocol (which can be accessed here), as well as its protocol for selecting an execution team (which be accessed here).
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