Ohio used the last of its lethal injection drug on 61-year-old Harry Mitts Jr. Wednesday. Now it, like other states, faces a shortage of pentobarbital after an overseas company stopped providing it due to the European Union's opposition to the death penalty.
The Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck LLC, which manufactures pentobarbital, is refusing to supply more of the drug for executions in the United States, causing states to look for other options.
This Oct. 24, 2001 file photo shows the death chamber at the state prison in Jackson, Ga. The state of Georgia plans to use a compounding pharmacy to get the drug needed for an execution scheduled for next week. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman on Thursday, July 11, 2013 confirmed that the state will get pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy for the execution of Warren Lee Hill, which is set for Monday, July 15. (Photo: AP/Ric Feld, File)
Before 2011, several states used the anesthetic sodium thiopental as part of their lethal injections. But Hospira Inc halted production of the drug that year, forcing states to look elsewhere for drugs that could be used for lethal injections. This other option was pentobarbital, but now states are figuring out how to still carry out the death penalty without their drug of choice.
Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said it expects to announce its new execution method by Oct. 4.
Other U.S. states have altered the drugs used in executions, juggled the combinations of drugs and sought to buy new supplies overseas or from different drug companies.
Some death penalty states, like Georgia, announced that it turned to compounding pharmacies, which make customized drugs that are not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use.
Missouri wants to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson's 2009 death — even though the drug hasn't been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. Its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts.
"The states really scramble to go all over to get drugs. Some went overseas, some got from each other. But these manufacturers, a number them are based in Europe, don't want to participate in our executions. So they've clamped down as much as they can," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty organization, said last month.
He said pentobarbital, which has been used along or in concert with other drugs in all executions in the U.S. the past two years, was more readily available because it was commonly used as a sedative.
"But I guess restrictions have been put on its distribution," Dieter said. "It's uncertain where all of this goes because it's inherently a medical kind of procedure involving some health professionals who are largely focused on keeping people alive. It runs into contradictions with executions — people strapped to a table. Executions aren't exactly what the medical model is."
Texas, which executes more people than any other state, said in August that its supply of pentobarbital also would expire at the end of September, allowing it to conduct only one more execution with the drug, on September 26. But criminal justice department spokesman Jason Clark, said on Tuesday the state's supply of the drug was not expiring this month after all. He did not explain what had changed since August.
Watch this report about the drug shortage:
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.