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Execution Set for April, but State Out of Key Drug

The next execution is scheduled to take place April 5 — less than a month from now — but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has not yet decided which drug it will use to replace sodium thiopental, one of three used in the state's execution protocol.

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Judges have set the dates for four more executions this year, and all of them scheduled to take place after the state's supply of sodium thiopental expires. The next execution is scheduled to take place April 5 — less than a month from now — but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has not yet decided which drug it will use to replace sodium thiopental, one of three used in the state's execution protocol.

"We haven't made any decision, but we are working on possibly replacing it with another drug," said TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.

The only American producer of sodium thiopental, Illinois-based Hospira Inc., announced in January it would stop selling the drug, which it planned to manufacture in an Italian plant, after authorities in that country wanted a guarantee that the drug would not be used in executions. Other states, including Oklahoma and Ohio, have turned to another anesthetic drug for executions: pentobarbital. Ohio uses one massive dose of the drug in its capital punishment. Oklahoma uses it in a three-drug cocktail similar to the one Texas uses.

Lyons would not say which alternative drugs TDCJ officials are considering, but she said they are looking to examples of what other states have done and trying to find a method that doesn't rely on overseas drug producers. But pentobarbital, like sodium thiopental, is not produced in the U.S. The drug is only available from one company operating in the United States, Lundbeck Inc., based in Denmark, a country that also opposes the death penalty. In January, Lundbeck asked Oklahoma and Ohio not to use pentobarbital in executions.

TDCJ expects to make a decision in the next week or so about how it will carry out the scheduled execution of Cleve Foster on April 5, Lyons said.

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