"Arkansas turns to different lethal injection drug," is the report in the Little River News.
After surrendering its supply of a lethal injection drug to federal agents in 2011, Arkansas turned to a somewhat surprising place to look for another drug: a list from lawyers for several death row inmates.
The state Department of Correction said last week that it decided to use phenobarbital after attorneys for several death row inmates mentioned in a lawsuit that it might be an available drug. Phenobarbital, which is used to treat seizures, has never been used in a U.S. execution, and critics contend that a drug that's untested in lethal injections could lead to inhumane deaths for condemned prisoners.
"People should not be using inmates as an experiment," said David Lubarsky, who chairs the anesthesiology department at the University of Miami's medical school. "And that is basically what this is. It's basically experimenting."
As drugmakers object to their products' use in lethal injections, more death penalty states have been looking at different options. But the states have revealed little, if any, information about how they go about picking drugs.
In Arkansas, Department of Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson said the agency consulted medical sources before picking phenobarbital, but Wilson refused to say what those sources were. She also wouldn't say whether the agency considered using other drugs.
"Our research indicated the drug would take effect within 5 minutes and should result in a painless death," Wilson said.
But even the paperwork that came with the state's supply of phenobarbital, which is a kind of drug known as a barbiturate, warns that the "toxic dose of barbiturates varies considerably," according to records.
"We have no idea about whether or not the injection of such large doses will produce some acute tolerance effect, in which case you may or may not actually be able to kill someone with it," said Lubarsky, who has testified in death penalty cases.