By Julie Carr Smyth and Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio prison officials said Friday they are keeping their primary lethal injection drug in place despite the state's supply expiring, but they've added a second drug option for executioners to address the shortage.
Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the powerful sedative pentobarbital will remain Ohio's primary method of administering the death penalty. A policy posted to the prisons department's website listed a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone as an alternative if sufficient pentobarbital isn't available or if the existing supply "is deemed unusable" by the medical team.
Ohio is not alone in its struggle to find alternatives. Georgia, Missouri and Arkansas have all sought other options. A legal challenge has placed Missouri's proposal to use propofol on hold, and anesthesiologists are asking the state to reconsider out of fear it could lead to restrictions of the drug needed for hospital use.
The Ohio agency's announcement came just days after its last supplies of pentobarbital expired. The last dose before the expiration was used to put condemned killer Harry Mitts to death Sept. 15 for shooting two people, including a suburban Cleveland police officer.
The alternative drug regimen was included in a revised overall capital punishment policy released by the state.
A federal judge had already indicated he'll review the new execution process. If he allows the state to go ahead, it was not immediately clear whether the state would use pentobarbital that exceeds its expiration date or the new alternative drug combination in the November execution of Ronald Phillips, sentenced to die for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993. Prisons chief Gary Mohr said on the day of Mitts' execution that the state wouldn't necessarily need to replace pentobarbital.
The drug's original manufacturer, Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., said in 2011 that it was putting the drug off-limits for executions. It required that prohibition remain when it sold the product to Lake Forest, Illinois-based Akorn Inc.
As a result, supplies had dried up in Ohio and around the country.
Friday's announcement is the third time the state has made a change related to the drug it uses in lethal injection.
In 2009, Ohio switched to a single dose of sodium thiopental. In 2011, it switched to pentobarbital when the manufacturer of sodium thiopental also restricted its distribution.
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. A lawsuit is challenging the state's decision to shield the pharmacy and contends the drug could be unsafe.
Ohio also has a backup method involving two drugs injected into muscles. That method has never been used.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press