By Michael Graczyk
HOUSTON — Texas is changing one of the drugs used to conduct executions in the nation's busiest death penalty state because of a shortage of a drug it's used for nearly three decades, officials said Wednesday.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said they plan to substitute pentobarbital for sodium thiopental in the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections. Pentobarbital also is commonly used to euthanize animals and recently has been used for executions in Oklahoma.
A shortage of sodium thiopental has forced multiple states to scramble to find substitutes. Texas has used the drug since becoming the first state to do lethal injections in 1982. The Texas supply of sodium thiopental expires at the end of this month and an execution is set for early April.
Agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Rick Thaler, director of the agency's institutional division, authorized the switch.
"It's in the state statute that changes in chemical and dosages may be made at the discretion of the institutional division director," she said. "We were looking for a drug with similar properties to sodium thiopental and this drug has been used in the Oklahoma execution process so there is a precedent for its use in executions."
She noted pentobarbital use has survived court challenges in Oklahoma.
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