Arizona Runs Out Of Execution Drugs Used For Lethal Injections

Lawyers representing the Arizona Department of Corrections have in a filing on Friday confirmed that they have run out of execution drugs used for lethal injections in the state. According to the lawyers, the supply of midazolam, a sedative used by the Arizona Department of Corrections, expired on May 31. The department adds that they have not been able to replace it with an alternative, Yahoo News reports. The filing was part of an ongoing court case that challenged the state’s execution methods. The case was filed on behalf of seven death-row inmates from Arizona following the botched execution of Joseph Wood, who was administered lethal injection in July 2014.

As of today, Wood remains the last man to be executed in the state using lethal injection. The lawsuit alleges that the use of midazolam and two other drugs resulted in the botched execution in which Joseph Wood took more than two hours to die. He was also administered 14 times the allowed dosage of midazolam and another chemical, a narcotic known as hydromorphone. An AZ Central reporter who witnessed the botched execution recalls how the execution went through.

“Wood’s execution started off well, if such a thing can be said. He closed his eyes and seemed to slip into unconsciousness. But then his mouth suddenly popped open, like that of a fish on dry land gulping for oxygen. A moment later, he lurched again, and again. I began to count the breaths with cross-hatches using the pencil and sheet of paper I had been issued by corrections officials. I counted more than 640 by the time he was pronounced dead nearly two hours later.”

The lawyers of the current death row inmates allege that the use of these drugs is in violation of the U.S. Constitution that bans “cruel and unusual” punishment. Meanwhile, all executions in Arizona remain on hold until the lawsuit reaches a conclusion.

Lethal injection drugs
Bottles of the sedative midazolam at a hospital pharmacy in Oklahoma City. Wood’s execution in 2014 involved this sedative. (AP Photo)

Court documents also reveal that the Arizona Department of Corrections also lacked the drugs pentobarbital and sodium thiopental — both of which are used for executions. Another reason for the expiry of execution drugs in Arizona was because one of their suppliers, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., last month confirmed that it will ban the sale of execution drugs — including midazolam. This was a major setback because Pfizer was a major source for these drugs for the U.S.

Parts of the lawsuit filed by the death-row inmates were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake last month. Following the expiry of the drugs, the state on Friday argued that the lawsuit is now moot since one of the key drugs that resulted in the lawsuit is now off the table. This was, however, challenged by Dale Baich, an attorney representing one of the death-row inmates. He said,

“It’s our belief that the unlimited discretion that the director has during the execution process violates the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.”

Arizona is not the only state to face issues related to death penalty. Several other states in the U.S. are also facing issues regarding the sourcing and the usage of execution drugs. Meanwhile, several European drug makers have also followed Pfizer’s path and have started blocking the usage of their drugs for lethal injections

Clayton Lockett botched execution
This file photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Clayton Lockett, who was involved in a botched lethal injection death. (AP Photo/Oklahoma Department of Corrections, File)

According to data from the U.S. Death Penalty Information Center, there has been a sharp decline in the number of executions in the United States, especially since the 1990s. In 2016 alone, there have been 14 executions in the country so far, with the last one to be carried out on May 11 in Missouri, where 66-year-old Earl Forrest was executed by lethal injection.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

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