clock menu more-arrow no yes

Ohio has two dozen death row inmates with execution dates — but no drugs to execute them

Ohio Gov. John Kasich: "I want to continue forward with the death penalty, but if I don't have the drugs it becomes very difficult."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich: "I want to continue forward with the death penalty, but if I don't have the drugs it becomes very difficult."
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ohio's death penalty is running into a big problem: The state has two dozen death row inmates with firm execution dates, but it doesn't have the lethal injection drugs to carry out the executions.

The Associated Press's Andrew Welsh-Huggins reported that the state is now four months away from its next scheduled execution. But Ohio's attempts to obtain execution drugs have been blocked by pharmaceutical companies, which don't want their drugs used for or associated with executions. The FDA has also stopped the state from obtaining drugs from overseas because they aren't approved by the agency. And other states are reportedly unwilling to give up some of their own limited supplies to Ohio.

Ohio is one of the many states that have run into trouble with lethal injection drugs due to dwindling stocks, forcing it to halt all executions since January 2014. That month, the state executed convicted killer Dennis McGuire with an experimental, untried two-drug method. McGuire took 26 minutes to die while gasping and snorting, suggesting that he was suffering during the execution — a potential violation of the Eighth Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment. So the state abandoned the two-drug method, and now can't find the drugs for its new method.

Now the state may look into alternative ways to execute death row inmates. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien told the AP he wants Ohio to consider nitrogen gas, which Oklahoma approved in April as an execution alternative. Other states have allowed older methods as alternatives if they can't get lethal injection drugs: Utah brought back the firing squad, and Tennessee reinstated the electric chair.

But faced with alternatives that could produce some fairly gruesome images, some critics want Ohio — and other states — to abandon the death penalty altogether.

That's not the favored position of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who's running for president, but he didn't seem to rule it out in recent comments. "I want to continue forward with the death penalty," Kasich said, "but if I don't have the drugs it becomes very difficult."

Kasich isn't the only governor faced with these issues. While Ohio is dealing with some particularly pressing concerns due to its schedule for executions, every state is struggling to adapt its death penalty practices as a result of the lethal injection drug shortage.

The history behind the lethal injection drug shortage