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Ohio announces alternative lethal injection drug

Julie Carr Smyth and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press

FILE - In this Nov. 2005 file photo, public information director Larry Greene is shown in the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Ohio prison officials said Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, they are keeping their primary lethal injection drug in place despite the state's supply expiring, but they've added a second drug option for executioners to address the shortage. Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the powerful sedative pentobarbital will remain Ohio's primary method of administering the death penalty. A policy posted to the prisons department's website listed a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone as an alternative if sufficient pentobarbital isn't available or if the existing supply "is deemed unusable" by the medical team. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio could begin executing inmates with doses of a lethal injection drug prepared by specialized pharmacies under a change in its execution process prompted by difficulties securing the powerful sedative last used by the state.

The new execution policy outlined by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction on Friday comes just days after the state's last supplies of pentobarbital expired. The drug maker decided in 2011 to prohibit future sales of the product for use in capital punishment.

The new policy will allow executioners to use an alternative intravenous drug combination — the sedative midazolam with the opiate hydromorphone — if expired pentobarbital is deemed unusable or if new supplies of the drug are unavailable.

The state's last dose of unexpired pentobarbital was used to put condemned killer Harry Mitts to death Sept. 15 for shooting two people, including a suburban Cleveland police officer.

The state would need to rely on compounding pharmacies for any new pentobarbital, a process that might also require legislation to protect those pharmacies from lawsuits by capital punishment opponents.

It was not immediately clear which of the new options would be used in the November execution of Ronald Phillips, sentenced to die for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993. A federal judge has indicated he'll review the new policy before further executions go forward.

The original manufacturer of pentobarbital, Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., had put the drug off-limits for executions, and required that prohibition remain when it sold the product in 2011 to Lake Forest, Ill.-based Akorn Inc.

As a result, supplies had dried up in Ohio and around the country.

Friday's announcement is the third time the state has made a change related to the drug it uses in lethal injection.

In 2009, Ohio switched to a single dose of sodium thiopental. In 2011, it switched to pentobarbital when the manufacturer of sodium thiopental also restricted its distribution.

Among other states struggling to find alternatives are Georgia, Missouri and Arkansas. A legal challenge has placed Missouri's proposal to use propofol on hold, and anesthesiologists are asking the state to reconsider out of fear it could lead to restrictions of the drug needed for hospital use.

Arkansas' governor has held off scheduling executions as the state's Department of Correction plans to rewrite its lethal injection procedure to include a different drug or drugs and as prisoners continue to challenge the state's new execution law in court.

In Georgia, after the state's supply of pentobarbital expired in March, it acquired the drug from a compounding pharmacy. A lawsuit is challenging the state's decision to shield the pharmacy and contends the drug could be unsafe.

Ohio already had a backup method that involved injecting midazolam and hydromorphone into muscles. That method has never been used.