Ohio to use surgical drug in lethal injections

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio is set to become the first state to use a surgical sedative as its sole means of executing condemned inmates, a switch made as the shortage of the drug normally used for executions has worsened.

Beginning in March, the state execution team will use a single, powerful dose of pentobarbital, a drug sometimes used to induce surgical comas, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Tuesday.

The drug, which is chemically related to a version of pentobarbital used to euthanize pets, replaces sodium thiopental, which was already scarce when its only U.S. manufacturer announced last week it would no longer produce it.

Ohio is following the lead of Oklahoma, which switched to pentobarbital last year and has since used it three times. However, Ohio, which used only a single dose of anesthetic to execute inmates, would become the first state to use pentobarbital alone, without two additional drugs that paralyze inmates and stop their hearts.

Ohio plans to use 5 grams of pentobarbital per execution, the same dosage as the current sodium thiopental injection.

Chemically speaking, the pentobarbital used by veterinarians and the product used for human surgeries is the same, said Rich Bednarski, professor of veterinary anesthesia at Ohio State University.

But vets use a far more concentrated version marketed only for euthanasia and often combined with other drugs, Bednarski said.

Ohio is buying its supply from a manufacturer that only produces the drug for use in hospitals, said DRC spokesman Carlo LoParo.

The prisons department said it will use its remaining supply of sodium thiopental for the scheduled execution Feb. 17 of Frank Spisak, who killed three people at Cleveland State University in 1982.

The first use of pentobarbital is planned for March’s scheduled execution of Johnnie Baston of Lucas County, condemned to die for shooting the owner of a Toledo store in the back of the head during a 1994 robbery.

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