With only a single cocktail of drugs used to execute Oklahoma inmates left in stock, state Corrections Department officials and the state attorney general's office admit there is no firm plan in place moving forward if more of the substance — or a suitable replacement — can't be found.
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said the situation remains “fluid.”
“We have plans ... whether or not they'll come through is the question,” Massie said. “It's kind of fluid right now, kind of up in the air.”
Lethal injection is the only method of execution permitted under Oklahoma law, so options are limited.
Right now, there are no executions planned for the rest of the year.
Massie said the Corrections Department is looking to acquire more pentobarbital, which had been used to sedate animals before Oklahoma began using it in executions at the end of 2010.
Since December 2010, pentobarbital has been the first of three drugs injected into condemned prisoners, causing unconsciousness.
It also has become nearly impossible to get in recent months, Massie said, because its manufacturers won't sell it to prison systems intending to use it for executions.
Lundbeck, the Danish company that manufactured and distributed pentobarbital until the end of last year, issued several statements about the use of its product in state-sanctioned executions. The company has since divested “a portfolio of products,” including pentobarbital, to an American firm which has agreed not to sell it to prison systems.
“The use of pentobarbital to carry out the death penalty in U.S. prisons falls outside its approved indications,” the company said in a statement last year. “Lundbeck cannot assure the associated safety and efficacy profiles in such instances ... (and) does not promote pentobarbital for use as part of lethal injections and is doing everything in its power to put an end to this
Despite this statement, Massie said the Corrections Department is actively trying to acquire more of the drug to use in executions.
“There is some available out there, it's just a question of whether we can get it,” Massie said, adding that he didn't want to reveal more and upset a potential supplier. “We're looking at all options right now.”
All options include trying to get more sodium thiopental, which had been used by the Corrections Department before it switched to pentobarbital, Massie said.
But like its successor, sodium thiopental also has become nearly impossible to get for the same reasons — manufacturers won't sell it to prison systems.
Lack of options
Under state law, the electric chair can be used to execute Oklahoma prisoners if lethal injection is declared unconstitutional. If the chair is deemed unconstitutional, a firing squad is to be used to execute the condemned.
Massie said the Corrections Department has no working electric chair nor has executed a prisoner by firing squad.
Diane Clay, a spokes
“On the drug issue, we are exploring options concerning what action to take if pentobarbital and sodium thiopental are not available,” Clay said.
And with one of the busiest death rows in the nation, the drug shortage likely will start causing problems next year if a solution isn't found.
“We usually execute about three or so a year in recent years,” Massie said.
In fact, Oklahoma has executed at least two inmates a year since 1997, Corrections Department records show.
In the past, drug shortages weren't an issue.
“We used to just buy what we needed right before the execution,” Massie said. “There wasn't a need to stockpile or anything.”