february 21, 2014
Virginia’s Department of Corrections has approved the use of a new drug as part of its lethal injection protocol, amid difficulties carrying out executions.
Midazolam is one of the two drugs used in an Ohio execution that took 24 minutes and led to a lawsuit from the family of the inmate, who allege his prolonged death amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
Used in surgery to calm patients and induce sleepiness, midazolam will serve as an alternative first drug in Virginia’s three-drug protocol, according to the department. It will stand in for pentobarbital or thiopental sodium, drugs that states across the country have found difficult to acquire as manufacturers have started refusing to sell their products for use in executions.
Records show that Virginia’s Department of Corrections purchased several doses last fall of both drugs used in the Ohio execution, midazolam and hydromorphone. Use of the second drug has not yet been approved in the state, nor has the department announced a switch from a three-drug to a two-drug protocol.
“There are no plans to move to the two-drug protocol used in Ohio,” said Lisa E. Kinney, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
Officials in Virginia have told lawmakers that they cannot find reliable supplies of the drugs they need to carry out executions — leading to an aborted attempt in the state legislature this year to use the electric chair as a backup when lethal injection is unavailable.
The state’s supply of all the drugs currently authorized for use in executions will expire in the spring of 2015.
Virginia has executed 110 inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s and is second only to Texas in overall executions. There are currently eight inmates currently on death row in the state.