USA: JUDGE ALLOWS NEW LETHAL INJECTION DRUG FOR OKLAHOMA EXECUTIONS
November 19, 2010: U.S District Judge Stephen P. Friot allows new lethal injection drug for Oklahoma executions. Friot ruled that Oklahoma can use pentobarbital, a drug regularly given in physician-assisted suicide and animal euthanasia, in its lethal injection formula for death row inmates. Oklahoma is likely to become the 1st state to use the pentobarbital for lethal injection on Dec. 16, when the state's next execution is scheduled. The use of pentobarbital "falls short of the level of risk" considered cruel and unusual punishment, Judge Friot said after a hearing in his Oklahoma City courtroom.
Friot's ruling means the stay of execution for inmate Jeffrey Matthews expires today and his execution will be rescheduled by the state Court of Criminal Appeals. Executions had been in question as the inmates' attorneys and attorneys with the Oklahoma attorney general's office argued over which sedative should be used in Oklahoma's 3-drug, lethal injection cocktail. Oklahoma's protocol for lethal injection is for the sedative to be administered first, followed by a drug that causes paralysis and stops breathing and then a drug that stops the heart.
There is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental (Pentothal), the drug Oklahoma had used as the sedative. More of the drug will not be on the market until 2011. Prison officials plan instead to use pentobarbital, a drug usually given in animal euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Oregon and the Netherlands. The state's expert, Dr. Mark Dershwitz, said the 5 grams of pentobarbital called for by Oklahoma's procedure is more than enough to ensure inmates don't feel the effects of the last 2 drugs. "5 grams of any barbiturate is an enormous overdose in all cases," the anesthesiologist said. "The 5 grams of pentobarbital will cause a person to stop breathing." Half that amount would likely be lethal, Dershwitz added. "Certainly after 5 minutes, the person will be unconscious; certainly the person will not be breathing," he said. "After giving someone 5 grams of pentobarbital, the risk of them being conscious for the 2nd or 3rd drug is negligible."
Friot also noted Oklahoma's procedure requires a licensed physician be in attendance and that at least 5 minutes lapse from administration of the sedative to beginning the 2nd drug. After court, attorneys for Matthews were readying exhibits for an appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. (Source: The Oklahoman, 19/11/2010)