May 19, 2012 source : AP
After prodding from Texas AG, prison system says it has enough drugs to execute 23 inmates
Texas prison officials disclosed Friday they have enough lethal drugs to execute as many as 23 people.
In response to this week’s opinion from the state attorney general’s office that said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice could not withhold information about the drug supply, the department said it currently has 46 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital. A 5-gram dose — about 3.4 ounces — is the 1st lethal drug used during each execution in Huntsville, according to Texas execution procedures.
The prison agency said it had similar supplies of 2 other drugs also administered to condemned inmates. It did not, though, identify suppliers of the lethal drugs, which the opinion also had addressed.
Executions also involve 100 milligrams of pancuronium bromide and 140 milliequivalents of potassium chloride. Texas has 290 10-milligram vials of the pancuronium bromide — 10 are required per execution — and 737 20-milliequivalent vials of potassium chloride — 7 per punishment.
The department’s written procedures call for a matching set of drugs and syringes “in case unforeseen events make their use necessary.” But in a brief statement emailed to reporters late Friday, the agency said a backup set of lethal drugs for executions “is not actually prepared, but an additional dose is available if needed.”
The attorney general’s opinion, dated Monday, was an answer to public information requests filed earlier this year by the Austin American-Statesman and British newspaper The Guardian.
Prison officials had argued that releasing the information could be harmful to employees and provide death penalty opponents a way to harass the drug suppliers with the hope firms would refuse to do business with the state.
“We find your arguments as to how disclosure of the requested drug quantities would result in the disruption of the execution process or otherwise interfere with law enforcement to be too speculative,” Sean Opperman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.
The prison agency had 30 days to comply with the opinion or to challenge it in court. The status of the supplier question was not immediately clear.
Opperman said that, while the attorney general’s office “acknowledge(s) the department’s concerns,” the corrections department didn’t show how disclosure of the information “would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual.”
Department officials previously had indicated they had a sufficient supply to handle upcoming executions. At least five are scheduled for this summer, including one early next month.
Last year, one of the drugs Texas had used in the process, sodium thiopental, became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found, so the drug was replaced by pentobarbital.
The physical effects of pentobarbital on condemned inmates have not been noticeable during the executions, but the financial cost to the state has risen considerably. Prison officials put the cost of the previous mixture at $83.35. It’s now $1286.86, with the higher cost primarily due to pentobarbital.