The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Jan. 8 that the state will stop using an execution method that utilizes a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. The decision puts at least one execution scheduled for next month on hold.
Ohio pioneered use of the two drugs in executions when it began using them last year. The two-drug mixture soon came under fire when it took 26 minutes to put convicted killer Dennis McGuire to death.
Witnesses said McGuire was gasping for breath during his execution. His family is suing the state, claiming the execution caused needless pain and suffering.
Another execution in Arizona last year using the same method took more than two hours.
The state has said it will again use thiopental sodium or pentobarbital, both powerful sedatives, for executions. Ohio used the former drug to put inmates to death from 1999 to 2011 but stopped when manufacturers ceased producing it in the United States.
It is unclear how Ohio plans to obtain the drug, though compounding pharmacies, or labs that produce such drugs, could make and supply them if current manufacturers will not.
“Presumably, Ohio is acquiring thiopental from a compounding pharmacy since the drug can no longer be purchased from international sources,” Deborah Denno, a law professor from Fordham University told ABC News last week.
In December, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a measure aimed at making it easier for the state to obtain execution drugs by stipulating that the identities of labs creating the drugs are not public information for a period of 20 years.
Currently, it’s illegal for the state to execute someone with drugs from an undisclosed source.
There are 61 compounding labs in Ohio; many are small businesses that fear backlash from consumers and activists if it is revealed that they supply drugs for executions.
Other states, including Texas and Missouri, have successfully used drugs like pentobarbital created in compounding labs.
Ohio’s announcement delays the execution of Ronald Phillips, who was convicted in the 1993 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. Phillips’ execution was scheduled for Feb. 11. Officials say other executions might be delayed as well as the state sources the third drug or an alternative.
The state has executions slated for March, May, July, September and November this year.