March 16, 2011 / 5:43 PM / in 7 years

For executions, Texas switches to drug used on animals

Austin, Tex (Reuters) - Texas, the state that executes more inmates than any other, said on Wednesday it will follow Oklahoma and switch one of its lethal injection drugs to a sedative often used to euthanize animals.

“It has been used by Oklahoma in their execution process, so there is a precedent there,” said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “Its use was upheld by the courts, so we’re confident it would be upheld by courts for use in Texas.”

The new drug, pentobarbital, will replace sodium thiopental in the Texas execution protocol. The change was necessary because Hospira Inc. of Illinois announced in January that it would stop making the anesthetic after Italy objected to Hospira manufacturing an execution drug in that country.

Since then, Ohio has also made the switch to pentobarbital, though its lethal injection protocol differs from that of Oklahoma and Texas. Ohio uses only pentobarbital while Texas and Oklahoma use a three-drug cocktail.

In that three-drug protocol, the sedative sodium thiopental — now, pentobarbital — is followed by lethal doses of drugs that relax muscles and stop the heart.

In Texas, the change in the lethal injection protocol is the most substantial since 1982, when the state carried out its first lethal injection, Lyons said.

Lyons said Texas has enough pentobarbital to carry out the five executions that have been scheduled.

The first prisoner scheduled to be given the new drug will be Cleve Foster, who is to be executed on April 5 for the abduction, rape and murder of Nyanuer “Mary” Pal, 28.

Maurie Levin, an attorney for Foster, criticized Texas’ decision to introduce a new drug less than three weeks before Foster’s scheduled execution.

“Prison officials are not medical professionals,” Levin said in a statement. “They cannot be trusted to change a medical procedure in the dark of night without public scrutiny, especially when there is such a minimal track record on the use of pentobarbital in lethal injections.”

Editing by Greg McCune

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