Tennessee's Supply of Death Penalty Drug Cut Off


On January 3, 2012, theTennessean released an article regarding the state's entire stock of a key lethal injection drug. Since the state is completely out of the critical component of a series of three drugs used humanely kill death row inmates, the state searches for an alternative source.

The problem is that the entire stock of a key lethal injection drug has been confiscated by the federal government as questions arise whether the drug was legally obtained. As of right now, Tennessee isn't sure exactly how or when it will execute inmates in the future.

According to the Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, the state's lethal injection protocol is a top priority and he said he is pursuing alternative drugs. He preferred not to disclose which options he is considering; however, other states have used an alternative drug that is commonly used in animal euthanasia. "I don't have a time frame, but it's a matter of urgency for us."

The Tennessean reports there are eighty-four people on Tennessee's death row, and 67 of them have been there for longer than 10 years. For those opposing the death penalty, the shortage of the 2011 anesthetic sodium thiopental is an answer to their prayers.

Death penalty advocates believe justice should be carried out, and they believe the state should consider doing what other states such as Ohio have done, use an alternative drug such as pentobarbital. It's the Tennessee Attorney General's Office who requests execution dates, it says it's waiting for orders to move forward. Spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said, "We will file the appropriate motions to set executions as soon as the executive branch indicates its readiness to proceed with executions." Meanwhile, Governor Bill Haslam's office says the department of correction continues to explore its options.

Tennessee's death penalty protocol remains unchanged since 1998 when the legislature made lethal injections the only method for executing inmates. Under the current system, inmates are strapped to a gurney and injected with three separate chemicals, the first being sodium thiopental, which puts them to sleep; the second being pancuronium bromide, which stops the breathing; and third, potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

The first drug is extremely important for it renders the process painless; however, this is the drug in which the sole supplier has stopped supplying, leading to shortages across the nation. When states such as Tennessee attempted to obtain the drug from overseas, it led to a federal lawsuit and a seizure of those drugs. In the interim, some states have turned towards pentobarbital as an alternative, which is typically used to euthanize animals.

We're still not certain which direction Tennessee will go as far as lethal injection, but until the state comes to a decision it's anticipated that executions will be put on hold in the meantime. If you are facing homicide charges for murder, or another serious violent felony, we urge you to contact a Morristown criminal defense attorney from The Bowlin Law Firm at once to discuss how we would tailor your defense. Your future is at stake, let us help you get started on defending your rights and your personal freedom.