Missouri's attorney general recently joined Oklahoma's Scott Pruitt and 13 other colleagues in asking the Justice Department's help in gaining access to one of the three drugs those states use in executions. Meantime, though, Missouri has opted to simply use one drug it can get its hands on.
The Missouri Department of Corrections is switching to propofol, perhaps best known as the anesthetic that Michael Jackson overdosed on in 2009. Missouri would be the first state to use propofol as an execution drug, which naturally has anti-death penalty groups up in arms.
Missouri, Oklahoma and other states that use a three-drug mix in executions are in a bind because of the unavailability of one of the drugs, the sedative pentobarbital.
Makers of the drug oppose selling it for use in executions; the same thing happened with sodium thiopental, which for many years had been the first drug administered during executions.
In a recent letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Pruitt and fellow attorneys general asked the Justice Department to appeal a Food and Drug Administration decision to stop releasing imported thiopental to state corrections departments for use in executions. The FDA had done so as recently as January 2011, but stopped after a ruling by a federal court in the District of Columbia that the attorneys general say was incorrect.
It's hard to believe this administration will rush to the states' side on this issue. Missouri cited the unavailability of sodium thiopental in announcing its change to propofol, a switch that didn't require legislative approval. Oklahoma could do the same but that would surely bring legal challenges, as happened when we went to pentobarbital after supplies of sodium thiopental dried up.
When might propofol be used in Missouri? Given that the Show Me State will first have to show that one execution drug is as good as three, expect it to be a while.