LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas prison officials said Wednesday their search for new lethal injection drugs is on hold until the Legislature adds manufacturers to a law that keeps the state’s suppliers of execution drugs secret, a move that means the state is unlikely to put any inmates to death this year.
The Department of Correction said it hasn’t actively sought the drugs since March, citing recent rulings by the state Supreme Court that a 2015 law does not allow officials to withhold the identities of drug manufacturers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he supports a proposal by the department that would keep manufacturers’ identities secret.
Arkansas does not have a supply of vecuronium bromide, one of the three drugs used in the lethal injection process. Its supply of the drug expired in March.
The state Board of Corrections last week held off on endorsing the proposal to expand the secrecy law after it chairman said he wanted to hear the attorney general’s opinion on the measure.
“As we stated last week, recent Supreme Court decisions holding that the Department cannot withhold the identity of drug manufacturers has hampered our ability to acquire drugs from potential suppliers,” Department of Correction Spokesman Solomon Graves said in an email. “The Department will be working with the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General, and the Board of Corrections to address this issue in the upcoming legislative session.”
Little Rock television station KARK first reported on the halted drug search Tuesday night.
The paused search likely means Arkansas won’t carry out any executions this year, since the Legislature doesn’t meet until January. The state’s supply of potassium chloride, a drug used in the lethal injection process that stops the inmate’s heart, expires at the end of August. Its supply of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of January.
The state’s lethal injection law keeps the supplier of the three drugs secret, but the state Supreme Court in November and again in March ruled that secrecy doesn’t extend to the drugs’ manufacturers. The proposed legislation would also prevent the department from releasing the drugs’ labels and package inserts, even in redacted form. The Associated Press has previously used the labels — with the manufacturer’s name blacked out — to identify drugmakers whose products would be used in executions.
Arkansas put four inmates to death over an eight-day period last year under a plan that had originally called for executing eight inmates before the state’s supply of midazolam expired.
Drug secrecy laws have expanded as companies have objected to their products being used to put inmates to death. Critics of the laws say they increase the possibility that executions will be cruel and unusual since they don’t know the source of the drugs.