Virginia details protocol for controversial execution drug

With capital punishment dominating headlines, PostTV looks at the latest statistics on the death penalty in the United States, and in the 21 other countries that executed inmates in 2013. (Davin Coburn/The Washington Post)

If Virginia executes an inmate using midazolam, the sedative that has caused controversy in Florida, Ohio and last night in Oklahoma, the state will use 500 milligrams rather than 100 milligrams of the drug, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Oklahoma used only 100 milligrams of midazolam in a protocol used for the first time Tuesday night, a decision that some observers questioned in advance of the botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

“Florida used five times the dose of midazolam that Oklahoma plans to use, meaning Lockett and Warner will essentially be human guinea pigs,” Stephanie Mencimer wrote in Mother Jones.

In the January execution of Dennis McGuire, Ohio used a two-drug combination of 10 milligrams of midazolam and 40 milligrams of hydromorphone. In response to an outcry after McGuire took 24 minutes to die, the state has increased its dosages to 50 milligrams of both drugs. At the same time, a state review declared that “there is no evidence that McGuire experienced any pain, distress or anxiety.” When used in a clinical setting for sedation, the state noted, only 1 or 2 milligrams of midazolam are typically used. An anesthesiologist who testified for the defense  disagreed, saying the 10-milligram dosage “was insufficient to cause general anesthesia.”

Virginia is relatively secretive about its drug protocols, although Freedom of Information Act requests show that the state has for years bought drugs from Cardinal Health, a pharmaceutical distributor in Ohio. The VDOC approved used of midazolam in February after a failed legislative effort to allow use of the electric chair in executions when lethal injection drugs are not available. Like Florida and Oklahoma, Virginia would use midazolam as part of a three-drug protocol rather than the two-drug protocol used in Ohio.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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