Ohio lawmakers narrow lethal injection bill

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2014 4:31 PM
Ohio lawmakers narrow lethal injection bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers on Wednesday removed a provision from a death penalty bill that doctors and drugmakers warned could have led to shortages of a key drug and set anesthesiology back 20 years.

At issue was a requirement that would have told drugmakers they couldn't restrict distribution of drugs that could be used in executions. Opponents of the requirement warned the European Union would quickly ban the export of the anesthetic propofol to the U.S. if Ohio's bill became law.

Europe supplies almost 90 percent of propofol used in the United States and no similar drug shares its safety and effectiveness, Dr. Robert Small, an anesthesiologist representing the Ohio Society of Anesthesiologists, told the Senate Civil Justice Committee.

"A shortage of this medicine would set the medical specialty of anesthesiology back 20 years," he said, adding that it would lead to complications from an increased rate of nausea and vomiting after surgery along with extended time to become conscious after surgery.

The president of a company whose drugs include propofol said the restriction would have a "cascading effect" that would harm patients and their families in Ohio.

"This would almost certainly cause delays or deferrals of elective surgeries nationwide," said John Ducker, president and CEO of Lake Zurich, Illinois-based drugmaker Fresenius Kabi.

Last year, Missouri dropped plans to use propofol as an execution drug because of concerns that the move could create a shortage of the popular anesthetic if the EU restricted its export.

The Ohio legislative committee, which scheduled a final vote Thursday, kept in place a requirement that companies providing Ohio with lethal injection drugs would have their names shielded for at least 20 years. The bill requires a drugmaker to specifically ask for anonymity, rather than receive it automatically.

The anonymity is aimed at so-called compounding pharmacies that mix doses of specialty drugs.

The committee also added recommendations from a state Supreme Court committee that studied the death penalty, including making it easier to research death row inmate claims that they received poor legal aid.

Ohio hasn't executed an inmate since January, when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted for 26 minutes before dying, during a procedure using a never-tried combination of a sedative and painkiller. It was Ohio's longest execution.

Further questions about those drugs, midazolam and hydromorphone, arose after Arizona used them during a nearly two-hour execution of an inmate in July.

Ohio's first choice for an execution drug is compounded pentobarbital, a version of pentobarbital not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Missouri and Texas, which shield the identity of their drug sources, have used compounded pentobarbital successfully several times. But Ohio has been unable to obtain it.

Proponents of the Ohio bill say the secrecy is necessary for Ohio to get supplies of the drug. They say it would protect companies from harassment over supplying the drugs.

Opponents say secrecy erodes confidence in the execution process. They also say threats of harassment are overblown.