By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS: Ohio is likely within two months to again change the way it executes prisoners, as drug sources dry up and supplies expire.
The latest change, which would be the third time the state has made a major change related to the drug it uses in lethal injection, is expected no later than Oct. 4, according to a court filing.
The filing does not spell out the new process, and the prisons department declined to comment Thursday.
However, it’s unlikely Ohio would switch to a method not involving drugs.
The state eliminated the electric chair as an option a decade ago in part out of prison authorities’ concerns about the potential stress on those carrying out the execution.
Whatever the approach, it will apply to the November execution of Ronald Phillips, sentenced to die for raping and killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993, according to the order filed Monday by federal Judge Gregory Frost.
Frost’s order notes that the new process won’t be in place for next month’s execution of Harry Mitts.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction raised the likelihood of a plan by Oct. 4 in a recent telephone conference with the judge, according to the order.
The change in the execution process is necessary because supplies of the sedative pentobarbital, the drug Ohio uses for executions, have been put off limits by its manufacturer, and the state’s remaining supplies expire at the end of September.
One option Ohio authorities have floated is obtaining the drug from compounding pharmacies, which are licensed to create small batches of drugs for specific patients.
Ohio also has a backup method involving two drugs injected into muscles. That method has never been used.
In 2009, the state switched to a single dose of sodium thiopental.
In 2011, it switched to pentobarbital when the manufacturer of sodium thiopental also restricted its distribution.
Among other states struggling to find alternatives are Georgia, Missouri and Arkansas. A legal challenge has placed Missouri’s proposal to use propofol on hold.
Arkansas’ governor has held off scheduling executions as the state’s Department of Correction plans to rewrite its lethal injection procedure to include a different drug or drugs and as prisoners continue to challenge the state’s new execution law in court.
In Georgia, after the state’s supply of pentobarbital expired in March, it acquired the drug from a compounding pharmacy, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press in a records request.