The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/27/14, 11:04 PM ET

Scarcity of execution drugs sends states on experimental search

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, talks with Rachel Maddow about Indiana's planed use of a new execution drug, Brevital, over the objections of the drug's manufacturer.

Indiana defends its experimental cocktail for lethal injections

Updated

Indiana has not executed any of its death-row prisoners since 2009. But the next time they do, they are planning to use a cocktail for lethal injection that has never been tried before, including an anesthetic that hasn’t been used in executions anywhere.

Last week, Indiana’s Department of Corrections told the Post-Tribune they have a “sufficient supply” of that anesthetic, Brevital. Indiana officials intend to use Brevital as a substitute for sodium thiopental. That used to be the standard drug for killing prisoners, but the makers of first sodium thiopental and then two alternative drugs stopped selling them for use in executions. 

Executives at the company that makes Brevital, Par Pharmaceutical, were surprised to find that Indiana had gotten a hold of their drug for use in lethal injections. The company issued a statement to TRMS, objecting to Indiana’s plans for the drug:

The state of Indiana’s proposed use of Brevital is inconsistent with its medical indications as outlined in its U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed and approved product labeling. Brevital is intended to be used as an anesthetic in life-sustaining procedures.

“As a pharmaceutical company, Par’s mission is to help improve the quality of life. The state of Indiana’s proposed use is contrary to our mission.” 

Par Pharmaceuticals officials say they are now taking steps to keep the company’s drugs from being sold to any departments of correction around the country.

Before the show last night, we asked Indiana corrections officials whether, given the pharmaceutical company’s statement, they intended to return the drug. This afternoon, Indiana officials told us they aren’t going to give up the Brevital they have. 

“The Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) uses Brevital consistent with its intended use, which is as an anesthetic intended to produce a state of deep, painless unconsciousness; part of a three step protocol intended to carry out an execution in a humane manner.”

Indiana corrections officials say they are using this new drug properly, to anesthetize prisoners deeply enough that they can’t feel it when the next* drug – in the state’s never-before-tried cocktail – stops their heart.

* Indiana follows a three-drug combination for lethal injection which begins with Brevital, the anesthetic, followed by a paralytic agent, pancuronium bromide, and then potassium chloride which stops the heart.

Death Penalty

Indiana defends its experimental cocktail for lethal injections

Updated