Oklahoma is preparing to argue in court next week that a drug used to euthanize animals can also be used to execute death row inmates amid a nationwide shortage of an anesthetic used in executions.
It is one of a number of states scrambling to find the drugs needed to perform capital punishment due to a shortage of thiopental sodium, the only anesthetic that states have so far used in lethal injections, according to lawyers.
States tend to adopt the death-row methods used by other states, so the Oklahoma court decision could have an impact elsewhere in the U.S.
Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. maker of thiopental, announced this summer that it had ceased production of the drug until 2011, citing a shortage in one of thiopental's raw ingredients.
Oklahoma, which is scheduled to execute John David Duty on Dec. 16, has said that veterinarians regard pentobarbital, which it is proposing as a substitute anesthetic for death row inmates, "as an ideal anesthetic agent for humane euthanasia in animals," that is "substantially" similar to thiopental, according to a court filing last month.
If approved, pentobarbital could be a new standard for lethal injections.