Shortage of Lethal Injection Drugs May Cause Delays in Arizona
Arizona prison executions are being put on hold due to the inability to get certain lethal injection chemicals such as sodium thiopental.
Sodium thiopental is a rapid onset anesthetic that has been used medically in the past but has been replaced by other drugs in recent times. It has also been used as the first of a three drug cocktail for lethal injections in the United States. Given that sodium thiopental is no longer used medically courts and the U.S. FDA have ruled that is has no legal uses in the United States and hence cannot be imported. In fact the European Union, which still manufactures this drug, will not import it to the United States so that it will not be used as part of lethal injections.
After the European Union’s refusal to export sodium thiopental to the United States, several states including Arizona have had to go searching for suppliers. Ultimately this has led to the use of a supplier located in India. The difficulty in obtaining these chemicals and having to use suppliers or distributors of questionable nature means that the actual contents or purity are unknown. A recent order and delivery was seized by federal agents when it arrived by air at the Phoenix airport earlier this year. Texas has also been affected by seizures.
The difficulty in obtaining sodium thiopental may delay but won’t ultimately stop executions in states that perform them. Some states are bringing back other methods such as the electric chair or firing squad while others, like Arizona, are investigating other drug combinations. Executions in Arizona have been on hold anyway since July, 2014 not because of a lack of lethal injection drugs but because the lethal injection of a Mr. Wood wherein it took him 90 minutes to die. This has raised questions on how humane the process is.