How Oklahoma's execution drugs work

The three drugs used in a botched execution of convicted killer Clayton Derrell Lockett on Tuesday likely did not perform as intended, potentially leaving him “paralyzed and burning” until his death, one pharmacology expert said Wednesday.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: April 30, 2014

The three drugs used in a botched execution of convicted killer Clayton Derrell Lockett on Tuesday likely did not perform as intended, potentially leaving him “paralyzed and burning” until his death, one pharmacology expert said Wednesday.

“The drugs, as the order in which they’re given, serve two purposes: for one, it is to cause minimal pain and suffering to the person being executed, but two, it's also for the audience to not observe any distress in the person being executed because it can be interpreted being cruel,” pharmacologist David Kroll said.

State Corrections Department officials stopped the execution of convicted killer Clayton Derrell Lockett on Tuesday after a botched lethal injection that caused Lockett’s body to violently convulse. He died of a heart attack about 40 minutes later.

The lethal injection was one of two set for Tuesday evening. Charles Frederick Warner was scheduled to be executed at 8 p.m., but after the first procedure, Gov. Mary Fallin postponed Warner’s execution until an investigation is complete.

About 1,200 executions by lethal injection have been performed in the United States, including about 110 in Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a national non-profit organization that collects data regarding capital punishment.

What is a ‘blown vein’?

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections hasn’t released any further information clarifying what officials meant when they said Lockett’s vein “exploded,” or that he suffered a “blown vein.” Lockett’s autopsy report has not yet been released.

Dr. Bill Kinsinger, an Oklahoma City anesthesiologist, said a medical way to describe a “blown vein” would be to say “failure to achieve adequate IV access.”

Kinsinger, who has been an anesthesiologist for 22 years, said he was not present at the execution, but based on what he has read from media reports, he would suggest one of two things happened.

“Either the IV was never really adequate in the first place, or it is possible an adequate IV suffered some type of failure,” Kinsinger said. “I would say the first description is more likely than the last, ...but I would say those have equal possibility.”

This failure to attain adequate IV access happens from time to time in hospital and health care settings, and each hospital’s rate would vary, he said.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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