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Column: If we're committing a crime to punish a crime, should we be doing it at all?

Drugs commonly used for lethal injection in death penalty cases have increasingly become as scarce as the incarceration itself, leading a number of states to form contracts with illegal venders to obtain the magical serum of death.

Since the introduction of the death penalty in 1976, the U.S. has executed a total of 1,419 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. According to the Arizona Republic at first states used propofol, but after Michael Jackson’s death the company temporarily took the drug off the market — thiopental went on the rise.

According to the Guardian, thiopental has been around for nearly 77 years, and although it predates the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, according to the Arizona Republic, thiopental is a fairly safe anesthetic.

“Sodium thiopental is an intravenous drug used (in the past) to induce or start anesthesia, which then, generally, continued with gas anesthesia once an airway was established,” said Stuart Hameroff, the UA director of the Center for Consciousness Studies and emeritus professor of Anesthesiology. “Thiopental (in sufficient dosage) renders the patient unconscious. They are not aware. They ‘go to sleep’ and lose consciousness for the duration of the drug effect,” he said.

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As death row grew in size so did the demand for drugs to carry out the deed, and once propofol disappeared states burned through the nation’s supply of thiopental. Executioners ran completely out of luck since the drug isn’t manufactured in the U.S., according to the Arizona Republic.

The only producer of thiopental, Hospira, was forced to shut down U.S. production and move to Italy as the only way to keep its license to manufacture, according to the Guardian.

States are unable to obtain thiopental overseas either because of the European Union ban on the exportation of drugs used for capital punishment, according to The Atlantic and the Arizona Republic. According to the Republic, however, the U.S. has been illegally importing such drugs since 2010.

States that continue to attempt to obtain thiopental include Nebraska, Tennessee, California, Texas and Arizona, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Shortages have left states illegally importing this drug largely from a manufacturer and distributor by the name of Chris Harris. With zero pharmaceutical background, Harris runs his cartel silently out of a rented office space in India, restricting contact with his own employees to mostly email.

On July 25, shipments of the drug were stopped by the FDA at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and confiscated, according to the Associated Press. The Arizona Department of Corrections purchased 1,000 vials of thiopental at $25 a piece, adding up to nearly $27,000 with shipping costs according to the Arizona Republic.

That’s money that could easily help fund government projects for rehab centers or mental disorder research or public safety — but nope, Arizona said screw that, let’s just kill already imprisoned criminals instead of trying to help or stop more.

Sometimes states without such hefty sums of money lying around instead turn to mixing experimental drugs together in hopes the concoction will result in a swift painless death. This has been far from the reality.

According to the Arizona Republic, during July 2014, Joseph Rudolph Wood was injected with the controversial mix of drugs that Oklahoma had previously attempted but failed; it took Wood two hours to die.

As of October 2015 only 31 states still allow the death penalty, and the rate of incarcerations has dropped significantly since its peaking days in 1999. The total number sentenced to death that year was 279, and in 2014 that number was 73, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Killing is never the answer; ask any elementary school student that question. Not only are the kids right, but the facts also agree.

According to a study by the National Research Council, 88 percent of experts agreed that executions do not lower homicide rates.

The shortage of lethal drugs shouldn’t be taken as an opportunity to try and create new ones or buy ourselves into a grave, but a chance to end the death penalty once and for all.

Whether it’s propofol or thiopental, both drugs are humane ways to end a prisoner’s life, but if an entire continent is prepared to drop the all charges, then perhaps it’s time America puts down the needle.


Follow Ashleigh Horrowitz on Twitter.



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