Two convicts were executed in Texas and Arizona Wednesday with drugs that have not been approved by federal authorities.
Both men were executed using a lethal injection of a "new" barbiturate customized by local pharmacies, which have not met the approval of the Food and Drug Adminstration. The drug pentobarbital is being synthesized locally because there is nationwide shortage, after the Danish producer of pentobarbital began refusing to sell the drug to U.S. states for the purpose of executing humans.
Michael Yowell, 43, was executed Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas. He was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of his parents. He was convicted of a drug-fueled attack in which he shot his father to death, strangled his mother, and injured his 89-year-old grandmother when the home exploded because he opened a gas line.
Arizona executed its oldest death row inmate Edward Schad, 71, on the same night, after the Supreme Court denied his final appeal in a 1978 murder-robbery.
The substitute pentobarbital was provided by compounding pharmacies, which are regulated by local authorities and not federal or national ones. Due to poor hygeine, compounding pharmacies were at the center of a November 2012 outbreak of deadly meningitis, according to AFP.
Both men argued to delay their executions over the drug. Schad complained that it was not approved by federal regulators.
Capital punishment opponents claim that drugs from compounding pharmacies might not be pure or potent and could cause unnecessary suffering.
Yowell appealed to delay his execution citing that the pentobarbital from the new source warned of “a high risk of excruciating pain.” He claimed using the drug could be seen as “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Supreme Court denied his appeal.
The company which provided Texas with pentobarbital, The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, remained anonymous until it began receiving hate calls over the drug. The pharmacy asked Texas officials to return the drugs, but they refused.
“The drugs were purchased legally by the agency,” the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) said Monday. “TDCJ has no intention of returning the pentobarbital.”
Yowell’s attorney said they didn’t even know that the controversial drug would be used until a week before the execution.
“This shift to compounded drugs is a dramatic change from prior practice, making the need for oversight — now and in the future — that much more important,” Yowell’s lawyers Maurie Levin and Bobbie Stratton said. “Surely this is not the way we want our government to carry out its most solemn duty.”