After various prior scandals involving botched executions (and a recently cancelled execution), Ohio has introduced a new execution protocol and drug — abandoning the traditional three-drug cocktail for a single dose execution.
The widely used three-drug cocktail was designed to minimize pain by inducing unconsciousness followed by death through paralysis of respiratory muscles and cardiac arrest. It begins with sodium thiopental, a short action barbiturate that induces unconsciousness in a few seconds. The second drug is pancuronium, a non-depolarizing muscle relaxant, that causes complete, fast and sustained paralysis of the skeletal striated muscles, including the diaphragm and respiratory muscles. This is followed by the third drug, potassium chloride which stops the heart causing death by cardiac arrest.
To deliver these drugs, the prison must find a suitable vein and insert an IV drip. That has been a problem in many cases. For a prior column on these problems and the evolution of execution methods, click here. Some experts in Ohio argued that sodium thiopental should be the only drug used and that the other two drugs increase the chance for pain, here.
Ohio will now use a 5-gram dose of sodium thiopental — 2 1/2 times the amount used in the three-injection method. Sodium thiopental is used to euthanize pets. It has also been used to induce comas in some patients.
Ohio is also adopting a new backup procedure that will use a single shot of Dilaudid, a commonly used painkiller.
Convicted killer Kenneth Biros of Northeast Ohio is scheduled for execution next week. However, the adoption of the new drug is likely to trigger an intense round of legal challenges.