LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas prison system spokesman said Friday the state doesn’t have a replacement for a lethal injection drug that’s set to expire on New Year’s Day, the latest obstacle in the state’s effort to resume executions after more than 11 years.
Department of Correction Spokesman Solomon Graves confirmed that the state’s supply of potassium chloride — one of three drugs used in lethal injections — expires on Sunday. Graves declined to say whether officials are in the process of finding a replacement.
“Our current supply remains unchanged,” Graves said.
Arkansas hasn’t put an inmate to death since 2005, and executions are on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a request to weigh in on a ruling upholding the state’s death penalty law. The state Supreme Court in June reversed a lower court’s decision against the execution secrecy law, which requires the Department of Correction to conceal the maker, seller and other information about the drugs. Justices have stayed that ruling while the inmates appeal to the nation’s high court.
Death row inmates challenging the law say it could lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the state reneged on an earlier pledge to share information.
The state’s supply of vecuronium bromide expires on March 1, 2018, while its supply of midazolam expires in April 2017. The state announced it received a new supply of the vecuronium bromide in July, days after its previous supply of the drug expired. The drug appears to have been made by a subsidiary of Pfizer, even though the pharmaceutical giant has said it doesn’t want its drugs to be used in executions. Using a redacted photo obtained from the Department of Correction, The Associated Press in July matched the new supply of the drug to labels submitted to the National Institutes of Health by Hospira, Inc., which Pfizer bought in 2015.
Before it bought the new supply of vecuronium bromide, Gov. Asa Hutchinson he wanted the Department of Correction to find a new supply of the drug rather than use another method allowed under the 2015 execution law. The law says Arkansas can use a one-drug protocol— a barbiturate— or seek drugs from an accredited compounding pharmacy.
Arkansas currently has 35 inmates on death row. Hutchinson set execution dates in 2015 for the eight inmates involved in the lawsuit before they were put on hold by the state Supreme Court during the challenge to the secrecy law.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in October denied the inmates’ request for more time to file their petition with the court. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had urged the court to deny the request, accusing the prisoners of trying to run out the clock until the lethal injection drug expired.
“Attorney General Rutledge is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether or not it will review the case,” Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge, said in an email. “The attorney general has made clear in filings that she thinks it should be denied.”