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Oklahoma acquires lethal injection drugs from compounding pharmacy

by Graham Lee Brewer Modified: April 1, 2014 at 8:49 pm •  Published: April 1, 2014

The state has acquired the drugs necessary to execute two death row inmates this month from a compounding pharmacy, a spokesman from the state attorney general’s office said.

Aaron Cooper said the attorney general’s office sent an email to lawyers for death row inmates Clayton Derrell Lockett, 38, and Charles Frederick Warner, 46, notifying them the state Corrections Department has acquired lethal doses of midazolam and pancuronium bromide and plans to use them for the pair’s upcoming executions. The state already had a supply of the third drug in the execution process, potassium chloride.

Together, those three drugs are part of a new lethal cocktail that, because of a March 21 change in execution protocol, the state of Oklahoma is now able to try.

That mixture has never been used in the U.S., and midazolam has only been used in a three-drug cocktail in one other state, Florida, said Jen Moreno, staff attorney at the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic in California. She noted Oklahoma’s protocol calls for a smaller dose of midazolam than Florida’s, which raises concerns.

“With the smaller dose of midazolam, there is a significant question of whether it would adequately anesthetize prisoners such that they are insensate for the administration of the paralytic and potassium chloride,” Moreno said. “In other words, it presents greater risks of conscious paralysis and suffering upon administration of the potassium than the Florida option presents.”

Ongoing search

The change to protocol comes amid an ongoing search by the state Corrections Department to find two of the three usual drugs in the state’s three-drug execution mixture — pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to render the condemned person unconscious, and vecuronium bromide, a drug that relaxes the muscles.

Two commonly used sedatives in lethal injections in the United States, sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, became hard to get for corrections departments in recent years when manufacturers took steps to ensure their products would not be used in capital punishment. Since then, states have turned to compounding pharmacies to create pentobarbital.

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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch, where he covered areas such as immigration and drug addiction, he went...
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