Two-Drug Cocktail

So Ohio is running out of Pentobarbital, the drug that it uses for its lethal injections. As noted in the previous post about compounding pharmacies, large manufacturers tend not to want to supply drugs for lethal injections, so Ohio must rely on its existing stock. In response to the shortage, Ohio is taking a two pronged strategy. Firstly, it is turning to compounding pharmacies. Secondly, it is changing its lethal injection protocol from using a single drug to using two drugs in conjunction. This is considered to be a backup to the existing pentobarbital method.

There is no agreed upon formulation for lethal injection drugs in the US. Each state is required to create its own protocol for the process. Pentobarbital is a sedative that is believed to cause a painless, and even euphoric death.

Ohio has changed its lethal injection protocol three times in the past five years. That means that the technicians who administer the lethal injection regimen must be trained again each time one of these changes takes place. The executioners, much like Kurt Stevens the character in Capital Offense, are not doctors. They may be highly trained and able individuals, but there have been mistakes made during the lethal injection process.

The new regimen, a combination of hydromorphone and midazolam, has never been tried before for lethal injection. Hydromorphone is an opiate similar to morphine. It is used to relieve pain in a hospital setting. The drug generally causes a sensation of euphoria and sedation in medical patients to whom it is administered. Midozolam is a benzodiazepine, which is different from an opiate in that it is a muscle relaxant. It is not yet known how these two drugs will interact during the lethal injection procedure.

There’s some controversy over the use of muscle relaxers like Midolozam in lethal injections. Since it is a muscular sedative there is a slight chance that the drug could render the recipient of the drug incapable of moving while maintaining neurological function. This is a phenomenon that has been observed in medical patients who have received certain types of sedatives, but has never been observed in lethal injection cases. This is generally the reason why a second drug is used, so that the neurological function can be sedated as effectively as the muscular function.

The pharmacy from which the state of Ohio is receiving the drugs has not been disclosed by the state prison agency.

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