Thursday, July 12, 2012

Texas Exhausts Drug Supply for Lethal Injections, Declares State Crisis

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- As San Bernardino became the third California city to declare bankruptcy this year -- causing analysts to question the fiscal stability of the state as a whole -- federal economists warned of greater, more widespread troubles looming in the not-so-distant future. As if to underscore the point, Texas officials declared a statewide crisis Wednesday that will require a radical overhaul of the existing penal system. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told reporters: "We have exhausted our supply of pancuronium bromide needed to perform lethal injections. All we have left is pentobarbital. When that runs out, Lord only knows what we're going to do."

Until recently, Texas had been using the standard three-drug cocktail to carry out executions, but it has now burned through its usable staple of the main drugs. The state must switch to using solely pentobarbital, a sedative commonly applied in the euthanization of animals.

Because animals in the state of Texas are put down by more conventional means that include military-grade firearms at point-blank range, assault rifles, hunting knives, motor vehicles, and heavy explosives, officials believe the rations of pentobarbital should last for at least another six months. And Texas veterinarians claim they have little use for the drug, pointing out that pet owners and even their neighbors prefer to euthanize the creatures themselves.

Pentobarbital has already been adopted in over 20 states. It is strictly considered an anesthetic and normally functions as just one ingredient in the standard three-cocktail model. The basic process involves the administration of the anesthetic first to render victims unconscious. Then, a second drug stops respiratory functions, followed by a third drug that stops the heart.

In the more affordable single-drug method, correctional professionals provide the condemned inmates with a massive overdose of pentobarbital, the barbiturate generally responsible for putting them to sleep when delivered in a normal dosage.

"It ain't pretty all the time -- a little tortuous to watch 'cause the bodies tend to thrash and convulse a helluva lot more -- but it works pretty much the same, I reckon," said Wash Hoburn, a deputy warden based in Nacogdoches. "Just don't always happen in the same order."

Hoburn touted the process as saving the state time and money because it requires just one shot with a single syringe: "The chemicals go into the prisoner's veins -- when we can find them...takes hours sometimes -- and them drugs just start beating the holy hell out of the breathing system. Paralyzes the diaphragm and collapses the lungs, which leads to what the medical folks call respiratory arrest. Once that happens, the convicts slip into an unconscious state. And after that, the stress of their body fighting to breathe and struggling to keep all them organs working just tuckers out their heart. Or, and this happens a lot too, they choke to death on their vomit. Round here, we call that the 'Rockstar.'"

Texas executes more people, including convicted murderers, than any other state in the country. Its next execution is scheduled for July 18, just a week away. Correctional officers say they have no choice but to switch to the single-drug method in order to accommodate the already impacted list of people awaiting capital punishment over the next few months.

When asked about the state's options should the existing supply of pentobarbital expire, Wash Hoburn laughed and said: "Well, it ain't likely to go sour or spoil. We can't even keep the stuff on the shelf for more than a few days. My concern is that Texas'll use it all up. After that, we're fixing to come up with some ideas outside the box. The electric chair is out, especially with all this green energy hogwash in Washington. Gas chamber's way too expensive, and the feds won't let us return to firing squads or hangings. Right now, we're thinking about putting death row inmates in a big coliseum of sorts, with some of them wild bears and bobcats that's been giving us trouble, and letting them sort out their own ends."

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.