As the number of U.S. executions last year dropped to the lowest total in two decades — 35 — death penalty states are having increasing difficulty obtaining the drugs they have used to execute inmates because pharmaceutical companies refuse to associate their drugs with killing people, NPR says. This has forced states to seek new formulas using untested doses and find new compounding pharmacies to make execution drugs. Four executions in 2014 did not go well. Just like big pharmaceutical companies, compounding pharmacies don’t want to be associated with executions.
“[The Texas Department of Criminal Justice], the prison, went to a pharmacy in Houston. They wrote them a letter … that said, ‘We promise you that we will keep this on the down-low,’ ” says Maurie Levin, a capital defense lawyer. When the name of the pharmacy was disclosed in a court proceeding, the compounding pharmacy was furious, embarrassed and quit. Last month a Texas judge ruled that the name of the compounding pharmacy is public information. Texas is appealing. This is the new front in the legal war over the death penalty. A clean and painless death by injection has played a major role in preserving capital punishment in America. If that becomes a problem, it could complicate the institution’s long-term survival.