Human Rights

Ohio prisons to receive flumazenil, a reversal drug for lethal injections

Photo courttesy of Melissa Robison via Flickr
Written by Dylanni Smith

Ohio is seeking a new drug for lethal injection executions, state officials announced at the beginning of January. However, instead of aiding in the execution process, the drug would be used to counteract the first drug in the state’s current lethal injection method.

The drug, known as flumazenil, will only be given if complications arise from the sedative midazolam, the first part of Ohio’s three-drug lethal injection cocktail.

According to ABC News, Gary Mohr, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in a federal court testimony that he is “not confident that (Ohio), in fact, can achieve a successful execution. I want to reverse the effects of this.”

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that 75 of the U.S.’s 1,054 lethal injection executions, which first started in 1982, have been botched. Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the U.S currently, but it is also the most likely to be botched.

Michael Radelet, contributor for the Death Penalty Information Center, said the most recent lethal injection that produced serious issues for the prisoner was the Dec. 8, 2016, execution of Ronald Bert Smith, Jr. in Alabama.

“Smith heaved, gasped and coughed while struggling for breath for 13 minutes after the lethal drugs were administered, and death was pronounced 34 minutes after the execution began,” Redelet said.

Dennis McGuire’s 2014 execution was Ohio’s last. His death made headlines and spurred criticism about the state’s lethal injection process that relied partly on the drug midazolam because McGuire took 26 minutes to die.

Rep. Jay Edwards, R-94th District, believes the drug could be beneficial but needs further consideration.

“From my understanding, it is a drug to have on standby. It sounds like a good idea, but I have also heard the other argument that the initial problem is not the drugs but with the IV’s not being done properly,” Edwards said. “There needs to be more research done on the drug. We do not want to move back; we need to move forward.”

Mistakes made by people administering the injections, rather than the drugs themselves, have resulted in execution problems.

Brandon Jones, Georgia’s oldest death row inmate, was executed in February 2016 by lethal injection. According to Radelet, executioners took almost 30 minutes to administer the IV properly. The staff also inserted the IV into his groin, probably because they could not find an accessible vein elsewhere. Jones opened his eyes six minutes after they administered the drugs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

In an interview with ABC News, Columbus surgeon Jonathan Groner, a lethal injection expert, agreed the IV could be the main source of the problems executioners are experiencing.

“A reversal drug will not help with that problem and could make it worse — if the IV is not in the vein, giving more drugs may cause more pain,” Groner said.

Despite these allegations, Ohio’s prisons agency is still working to obtain the drug for future use in lethal injection executions. The next execution in Ohio is scheduled for February.

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Dylanni Smith

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