Constitutional Law

Who Gets the Lethal Injection? Drug Shortage Creates 'Russian Roulette' Scenario


A national shortage of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs commonly included in a lethal cocktail used to execute prison inmates on death row, has created a “Russian roulette” scenario in at least one state and could do so in 34 more, an expert says.

Death Penalty Information Center Director Richard Dieter cited the potentially lethal game of chance following news that two inmates on Oklahoma’s death row are seeking execution delays, as officials seek to put one of them to death with a substitute drug, reports Reuters.

“It is really scarce,” says an Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman of the hard-to-find drug. “We haven’t been able to get more.”

As a result of the lack of sodium thiopental, the scheduled Aug. 17 execution of Jeffrey Matthews, 38, was pushed back until Oct. 16, after his lawyers objected to a last-minute plan to substitute another drug.

Then, after prison officials got their hands on exactly one dose, which they were going to use on Matthews, attorneys for another Oklahoma death row inmate, Donald Wackerly, objected to using a substitute drug in his scheduled Oct. 14 execution.

A judge decided that Wackerly gets the one dose of sodium thiopental. So now lawyers for Matthews are seeking another death-penalty delay for him, the news agency recounts.

The drug’s manufacturer is unsympathetic to the shortage issue, saying that it doesn’t expect to have more on the market until next year and doesn’t support its use in executions.

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