Ohio Has Year of Execution Drug Left

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio has enough of its now-off-limits execution drug to complete seven of its 10 scheduled lethal injections, meaning that over the next year it must somehow acquire new batches or again switch to a different drug, according to a review of state pharmacy documents.

The state’s supply of pentobarbital expires next September, and the sedative’s manufacturer has agreed to prevent its sale to prisons for executions. Ohio and other states stockpiled supplies before that went into effect.

The state plans to put a killer of two men to death Thursday and has executions scheduled through March 2014. Those include three executions after the drug expires at the end of September 2013.

Donald Palmer, 47, has been on death row since Nov. 1, 1989, after being convicted of the May 8, 1989, murders of Steven R. Vargo, 41, and Charles W. Sponhaltz, 43, along Belmont County Road 2 near the Jefferson County line. Palmer did not know either victim, and shot both men twice in the head.

Prisons agency spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said Tuesday that the department will be working with state pharmacists and the attorney general’s office to address the issue. She declined further comment.

It’s unclear what Ohio would do once the supply runs out. Prisons director Gary Mohr testified in federal court in March that an altered version of pentobarbital or a supply imported from overseas would not necessarily violate the prison’s execution policies. Expired batches of the drug would violate the policies, he said.

Other states are also facing possible pentobarbital shortages, and Missouri switched to another drug altogether earlier this year.

That drug, propofol, is perhaps best known as the drug that killed pop star Michael Jackson in 2009. It has never been used in a U.S. execution.

The Missouri Supreme Court has declined to set execution dates for six condemned killers, saying doing so is “premature” until the courts decide if Missouri’s new method is constitutional.

Arizona’s supply is running low, with enough pentobarbital on hand for at least two more executions, Kent Cattani, the state’s chief death penalty prosecutor, said Tuesday.

In July, Texas prison officials disclosed they have enough pentobarbital to execute as many as 23 people. The same month, Oklahoma announced it had secured 20 new doses of pentobarbital.

Pentobarbital is a surgical sedative that is sometimes employed in assisted suicides and is commonly used to euthanize dogs and cats.

Last year, the only U.S.-licensed maker of pentobarbital sold the product to another firm. Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc. said a distribution system meant to keep the drug out of the hands of prisons would remain in place as Lake Forest, Ill.-based Akorn Inc. acquired the drug.

Several states, including Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, had switched to pentobarbital after supplies of a previous execution drug dried up.