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Surprising reason behind pushback to stop lethal injections

Posted at 4:56 PM, Apr 18, 2017

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court put an execution planned for Arkansas on hold. But the state is still pushing to carry out capital punishment for two inmates by the end of the week. And it wants to execute a total of eight by the end of the month.

So why the rush? This all comes down to the drugs used for lethal injection. Arkansas' supply is about to expire. So why not just buy new ones?

The drug companies whose medications are used during lethal injections have tried to forbid states from using them to kill prisoners. But they can't just stop making them because these are also drugs used in hospital surgeries.

The lethal injection usually uses three drugs. Midazolam is the one about to expire. It's an anesthetic to put a prisoner to sleep. In a hospital operating room, it's used to produce memory loss so patients don't remember painful surgeries.

Vecuronium bromide paralyzes a prisoner, but in surgery it's used to relax skeletal muscles.

Potassium chloride stops a prisoner's heart, but doctors also use it in different doses to treat low blood potassium.

Several drug companies say the drugs the Arkansas prison system planned to use were obtained without the drug maker's permission. These drug companies say they didn't sell the drugs to the prison system, they bought them from a third party.

It turns out these companies are in line with decreasing support for the death penalty. The percentage of Americans who favor it has dropped. A Gallup poll shows 60 percent of Americans support it. That's down 20 percent from 1994.