With execution drugs in short supply across the nation and increasing secrecy about the companies that provide them, The Texas Tribune is keeping track of movement in the state’s supply.
- = one dose
- = scheduled execution
03 doses expire Dec. 23, 2021
12 doses expire Feb. 10, 2022
Why this matters
Since 1977, lethal injection has been the method for executing Texas criminals sentenced to death. But the drugs used in executions have changed over the years, as the state has struggled to get a hold of enough life-ending doses.
Texas, along with other states that hold executions, has been engaged in a battle for years to keep an adequate inventory of execution drugs. Currently, the state uses only pentobarbital, a sedative it has purchased from compounding pharmacies kept secret from the public.
To promote transparency, The Texas Tribune has obtained the inventory history and current supply of execution drugs held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The information, collected through continuous open records requests, is updated regularly with the available doses and recent changes to the state’s inventory.
In 2011, drug manufacturers began blocking their products from being used in lethal injections. As Texas’ struggled to perform executions, it turned to compounding pharmacies, state-regulated agencies that mix their own drugs without federal regulation.
When one pharmacy’s name became public, the owner said he received threats, and asked for the drugs to be returned. Texas refused, and the state Legislature passed a law in 2015 to maintain the privacy of any person or business involved in an execution, from the person who inserts the needle to the company that sells the drug.
Since then, Texas has kept enough pentobarbital in stock for scheduled executions, faring better than some other states. But the drugs haven’t come easy.
In 2016, Pfizer, the last-remaining open-market manufacturer of drugs that were used in executions, banned its products from being used for that purpose. Afterward, states that had regularly performed executions halted the practice as they are unable to obtain any drugs. Others rushed to schedule executions ahead of the expiration dates of their limited supply of drugs or switched to using a controversial sedative, midazolam, which was involved in botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona.
Texas has been able to keep an adequate supply on hand, but part of that is because the state has repeatedly extended the expiration date of doses in stock — retesting the potency levels as the expiration date nears and then relabeling them. The practice has drawn sharp criticism from death penalty defense attorneys, who say the old drugs are causing painful executions.
Even with its relative security, Texas is always looking for new supplies. In 2015, the state attempted to import from overseas a drug previously used by Texas in executions, sodium thiopental. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration seized the drugs and later ruled that they couldn’t be brought into the United States because they were unapproved and misbranded, but the state is fighting that ruling.
Additional design by Emily Albracht and Ben Hasson.