Midazolam, The Drug Oklahoma Executions Will Use Now, Isn't A Safe Bet Either

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After a nine-month hiatus prompted by the botched lethal injection of Clayton D. Lockett, Oklahoma is resuming executions on Thursday — but with a different tactic. The state has reportedly shelved its controversial three-drug cocktail and instead plans on using an extremely high dosage of just one drug, midazolam, on Thursday. Unfortunately, it turns out midazolam may not be so safe or humane after all.

Charles Frederick Warner, a 47-year-old convicted murderer and rapist, will be the first person executed by the state in 2015. Warner's execution was originally scheduled for April 2014, but was postponed after Lockett suffered an excruciatingly painful execution. Lockett, who was given a three-drug cocktail, reportedly died more than 40 minutes after the drugs were administered, causing the state to suspend all executions as it investigated Lockett's troubling death.

Although the state found that it was not the lethal injection, but how it was administered, that caused Lockett's death, Oklahoma still decided to switch from the three-drug cocktail to just one drug — the sedative midazolam. The state's initial drug cocktail consisted of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

But according to the Associated Press, midazolam isn't even the state's first choice of lethal injection. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told the AP that pentobarbital, a barbiturate, was the state's preferred drug of choice. However, the nation's pentobarbital supply is nearly dry, as foreign manufacturers of the drug have prohibited its use in executions (most Western European nations oppose capital punishment).

"Pentobarbital is best," Pruitt told the AP. "It's worked in our state."

So what's so wrong with midazolam? Well, many prison officials and legal experts, as well as anti-death penalty activists, have their doubts. According to The Guardian, midazolam was used in three botched executions in 2014, including Lockett's. The execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona was particularly disturbing, as witnesses said Wood gasped for nearly two hours before dying. A report released by the state's Department of Corrections concluded, however, that the execution was "not botched."

Lawyers don't seem to agree, nor do they approve of experimental drug combinations and dosages being used on their clients. In a petition to the Supreme Court, excerpted in The Guardian, attorneys representing three other Oklahoma inmates currently on death row challenged the use of midazolam, saying:

There is a well-established scientific consensus that it cannot maintain a deep, comalike unconsciousness. ... Oklahoma’s goal was political expediency, rather than the development of a more humane execution process, when it hastily switched to a three-drug protocol using midazolam.
However, without pentobarbital — or the also-banned sodium thiopental, which was also made by European companies who opposed the death penalty — states have been forced to find new ways to execute their prisoners. For now, midazolam is the best drug, Oklahoma state officials have said. "The state chose midazolam because it had been shown to work, and work effectively," Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General John Hadden said in a statement on Wednesday.

After Warner, the state plans to execute inmate Richard Eugene Glossip on Jan. 29, and John Marion Grant on Feb. 19. The state's currently has about 50 inmates listed on its "monthly roster," with just four having execution dates.

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