Ohio says may seek execution drugs from compounding pharmacies

Harry Mitts Jr. is shown in this photo taken upon admission into the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction on December 6, 1994. REUTERS/Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction/Handout via Reuters

By Kim Palmer CLEVELAND, OHIO (Reuters) - Ohio prison officials said Friday they are changing current policies on executions that could include using drugs from compounding pharmacies, an industry that has come under increased scrutiny from regulators. The shift in the state's policy, which takes effect on October 10, comes just three weeks after the state used its last dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital to execute condemned murderer Harry Mitts. Mitts was convicted of killing a Cleveland-area police officer and the boyfriend of a neighbor in 1994. Ohio, along with Texas and other U.S. states, have been struggling to secure drugs for use in lethal injections. Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck LLC, manufacturer of pentobarbital, said in 2011 it was restricting distribution because of European Union opposition to the death penalty. Many states are looking to compounding pharmacies to get the drugs they need for executions. But using ingredients often imported from China and other Asian markets, the pharmacies have little state or federal oversight to ensure the purity and potency of the drugs they whip up. Death penalty opponents and advocates for inmates on death row have complained the drugs from these unconventional pharmacies may cause unnecessary suffering in executions. Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, said Ohio's action was likely to draw a lawsuit. He said the legality of using compounding pharmacies for execution drugs is questionable for many reasons, including the fact that pharmacies are supposed to have a prescription for an individual patient to provide drugs. Compounding pharmacies traditionally mix drugs for specific individual patients as prescribed by a physician. They combine drugs or alter them to meet special needs a patient might have, such as making a medicine into a liquid form. "The pharmacies can't mix the drugs without a physician," Werner explained. "This new process is trying to bring doctors into the process, and it violates the Hippocratic oath and that is problematic," he said. Werner said federal public defenders currently representing death row inmates in Ohio's Southern District will likely try to use Ohio's action to stop the state's next scheduled execution, set for November 14. "Not too many states are going this way but the ones that have are running into challenges and are being held up in court," he said. The new Ohio policy will also allow state officials to use a combination of intramuscular drugs (midazolam and hydromorphone)intravenously if there are difficulties obtaining pentobarbital. Ohio has executed three men this year and there are 146 men and one woman on the state's death row. Dozens of people died and more than 600 were injured in a deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to The New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts and injections it made of methylprednisolone acetate, a drug typically used to ease back pain. (Editing by Diane Craft)