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Ohio seeks drug to reverse lethal injections

Published 13/01/2017

Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014
Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014

Ohio's prisons agency is trying to obtain a drug that could reverse the lethal injection process if needed, by stopping the effects of another used previously in problematic executions.

The request to use the drug would come if executioners were not confident the first of three lethal drugs would render a prisoner unconscious, Gary Mohr, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said, giving evidence in federal court on January 6.

Mr Mohr said he would inform the state's Republican governor John Kasich and ask for a reprieve at that point.

"Governor, I am not confident that we, in fact, can achieve a successful execution. I want to reverse the effects of this," Mr Mohr told the court, describing the language he would use in such a circumstance.

He said Ohio planned to order the drug, flumazenil, but did not currently have it.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith declined to comment on Mr Mohr's evidence, a copy of which was reviewed by The Associated Press.

Flumazenil is used to reverse the effects of a sedative called midazolam when that drug causes bad reactions in patients.

Midazolam is the first drug in Ohio's new three-drug execution method. Magistrate Judge Michael Merz is considering a challenge to this method's constitutionality, following a week-long hearing.

Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during the 26 minutes it took him to die - the longest execution since the state resumed putting prisoners to death in 1999.

The state used a two-drug method with McGuire, starting with midazolam, its first use for executions in the US.

Lawyers challenging the method say midazolam is unlikely to relieve an inmate's pain.

The drug was also used in a problematic 2014 execution in Arizona, but last year, the US Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in an Oklahoma case.

The state says the three-drug method is similar to its past execution process, which survived court challenges.

State lawyers also say the Supreme Court ruling last year makes clear the use of midazolam is allowable.

Ohio plans to put condemned child killer Ronald Phillips to death next month with midazolam and two other drugs.

Columbus surgeon Jonathan Groner, a lethal injection expert, said past problems with Ohio executions came about because executioners did not properly connect the IVs.

"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," he said.

In a related development, the state is expected to tell Magistrate Judge Merz on Friday whether its supply of lethal injection drugs is enough to carry out far more executions than it claimed three months ago.

On October 3, the state said it planned to use the new method on Phillips and two other inmates.

On Monday, it was reported that documents showed Ohio had obtained enough lethal drugs to carry out dozens of executions.

A day later Magistrate Judge Merz ordered the state to provide "a statement of its intentions" when it came to drugs used in future executions.

AP

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