On Nov. 14, an inmate on death row in Ohio will be given a lethal injection. It's the routine method of execution for such prisoners in Ohio, except for one big difference: This injection, to be used on Ronald Phillips, a man convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, is made up of a two-dose combination that has never been used in an execution before. The new cocktail is made up of a sedative, midazolam, and a painkiller, hydromorphone — both of which will be injected directly into Phillips' muscle.
A warden at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility turned to the new method after running out of pentobarbital, the drug normally used by Ohio. In the past, the state has purchased custom-mixed batches of the drug from contracted compounding pharmacies. However, Ohio ran out of the drug on Sept. 25, after the final dose was used to execute Harry Mitts, a prisoner sentenced to death for his part in the racially-tied 1994 Cleveland shootings that killed an African-American man and a police officer. Days later, Ohio announced their back-up plan as part of a revised execution policy. The new drugs aren't commonly used for lethal purposes.
The shortage of pentobarbital, the nation's most common drug for executions, comes after the drug's Danish manufacturers, Lundbeck Inc., declared it "off-limits" for lethal injections two years ago. Ohio had adopted the drug for use in 2011 after the manufacturers of the state's former execution method, an injection of sodium thiopental, also pulled that drug off the market for lethal purposes.
It's all part of a larger trend that's leaving prison wardens scrambling as supplies for lethal injections are drying up around the country. Other manufacturers of potentially lethal drugs, especially pharmaceutical companies located in Europe, are also pulling their products in protest of their drugs being applied to carrying out the death penalty. The European Union is against the practice, and by withholding lethal drugs, is putting pressure on the U.S. to abolish it.
Texas was stuck in a lurch after its supply of pentobarbital expired in September, and Georgia, California, South Dakota, Missouri, and Arkansas are all looking for alternatives. While Arkansas Department of Correction officials plan to revise their execution policy, Georgia is dealing with a lawsuit stemming from their refusal to name the compounding pharmacy that supplied the state after they ran out of an 'official' supply in March. (The plaintiffs contend that the drug, coming from an as-of-yet unknown source, could be unsafe.) Concerns are compounded by the fact that such pharmacies aren't closely monitored by the FDA.
As his execution draws closer, Phillips' lawyers have tried for a stay or reprieve, arguing that the convicted man was raped and beaten by his father as a child and "grew up in a chaotic, filthy environment."