Experts Weigh In on Use of Paralytic Drug in Executions


Deborah Denno was quoted by Reno Gazette Journal about lethal injection as a form of capital punishment.

In 1977, Dr. Jay Chapman developed a three-drug protocol to be used in Oklahoma, which became the first state to adopt lethal injection execution. The drug cocktail included the sedative sodium thiopental; a paralytic agent, pancuronium bromide; and potassium chloride, which stopped the heart.

Up until 2009, each state implemented similar protocols using those three drugs. But many pharmaceutical companies stopped manufacturing and selling the drugs, leading to a shortage, according to Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law.

Denno has written 26 articles about capital punishment. She said she looked at the dosages states were using in lethal injection executions for a nationwide survey she conducted in 2001 and 2005.

“The states were going everywhere and in every which way because they couldn’t find this initial drug that rendered the inmate unconscious,” Denno said, referring to sodium thiopental. “And in some of these cases, they weren’t giving nearly enough drugs to make somebody unconscious.”


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