Texas joins Ga. in using unregulated pharmacies for lethal injection drugs

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 10, 2013 

On Wednesday, at about 7 p.m., the state of Texas executed Michael Yowell, convicted of killing both his parents in Lubbock 15 years ago.

Texas has executed more than 500 people. Yowell was the 14th execution this year.

But there's a twist: Yowell's lethal injection was done with drugs procured from a compound pharmacy, a move made by the state after it began to run out of other sources of pentobarbital, a sedative which has been the sole ingredient in Texas' injection formula since 2012, when officials changed the formula following a lack of two previously-used drugs.

(The switch to pentobarbital raised the drug cost per execution from $83.55 to $1,286.86 -- a more than 1,500 percent increase.)

The lack of access to these drugs comes after years of mounting pressure on drug manufacturers from opponents of capitol punishment. Many manufacturers have begun restricting the sale of pentobarbital and other drugs such as sodium thiopental, arguing that they are unsafe to be used in executions.

To solve the latest shortage, Texas followed in the steps of several other states, including Georgia, in reaching out to compound pharmacies.

A compounding pharmacy is not bound by federal oversight and can custom-make drugs. Texas maintains it will continue to use pentobarbital in all lethal injections.

Defense attorneys for clients facing execution by these drugs argue they are untested and cannot be used, in case of violating the Constitution.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Yowell and two other condemned prisoners sued the state in federal court, arguing the use of untested drugs during an execution would be cruel and unusual punishment."

Their appeal was denied.

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