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Timeline: A History of Lethal Drug Use in Texas

Texas used a three-drug lethal injection cocktail for nearly three decades. But since 2011, a dwindling drug supply has forced Texas and other states to find other drugs to administer the death penalty.

For nearly 30 years, Texas used the same three-drug lethal injection cocktail to execute death row inmates: sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, followed by pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, and then potassium chloride, which brings about cardiac arrest. 

Drug manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad began cutting off supplies in 2011, refusing to allow their use in executions. The dwindling supply set in motion a national scramble among death penalty states, including Texas, to find drugs that could be used to administer the ultimate punishment. 

Relying on news stories and TDCJ documents provided to death row inmates' attorneys, The Texas Tribune compiled a timeline of TDCJ’s drug purchases and its use of execution drugs since 2011.

Among the most controversial developments in Texas and other states has been the use of a new type of vendor: compounding pharmacies. The state-regulated entities can mix, or "compound," the drugs needed for lethal injections. But the pharmacies aren't subject to federal drug regulations. 

When the names of some compounding pharmacies surfaced publicly for the first time last year, they quit providing the drugs and even asked TDCJ to return them, citing harassment they suffered.

Both the concern over dwindling supply and the security concerns of drug suppliers have prompted TDCJ and other state prison systems to seek to severely limit the release of information about the sources of execution drugs. 

After years of telling TDCJ to release information about the death penalty process to the public, Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott in May ruled that the prison system had proved a threat existed to compounding pharmacies if the companies' identities were revealed. In a reversal of his previous decisions, Abbott ruled that information about the source of execution drugs can remain secret.

 Each icon represents an executed inmate. The color of the icon indicates the lethal injection cocktail used in the execution.

Sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride

Pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride

Pentobarbital

Jan. 21, 2011

Hospira, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, stops selling it because of a raw materials shortage. Since 1982, the state has used a three-drug cocktail including sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, followed by pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, and potassium chloride, which brings about cardiac arrest. TDCJ continues to use sodium thiopental in executions until its inventory runs out.

Feb. 2, 2011

Six inmates in three states – Arizona, California and Tennessee – sue the Federal Drug Administration over imports of sodium thiopental. The lawsuit claims the drug was exported by a wholesaler in the United Kingdom and that its quality could not be determined. They alleged that questions about the drugs’ quality jeopardized the inmates’ Eighth Amendment right to be safe from cruel and unusual punishment.

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Michael Hall
Feb. 15, 2011

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Timothy Adams
Feb. 22, 2011

Mar. 15, 2011

The Drug Enforcement Administration seizes sodium thiopental from the Georgia Department of Corrections, suspecting the drug was imported illegally from abroad. The DEA later seized the drug from prison systems in California, Kentucky and Tennessee. A few weeks later, attorneys for death row inmates ask the Texas Department of Public Safety to investigate TDCJ’s authority to possess and dispense controlled substances at the Huntsville Unit, which houses the Texas execution chamber. The attorneys allege that TDCJ “illegally purchased” the drug. TDCJ had long told vendors to send drugs to the “Huntsville Unit Hospital.” But there is no hospital at the Huntsville Unit, only an infirmary. The agency maintains it did nothing illegal. “We’re confident that we’re complying with all state and federal laws,” said Jason Clark, TDCJ spokesman. DPS officials did not respond to questions about the request for an investigation.

May 3, 2011

Cary Kerr is the first Texas death row inmate executed with a three-drug-cocktail that uses pentobarbital, a drug normally used to treat anxiety and epilepsy and to induce unconsciousness, instead of sodium thiopental.

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Cary Kerr
May 3, 2011

May 24, 2012

Missouri's correction system announces it plans to use a single drug, propofol, which had never been used before in executions. But the state never used the propofol, a widely used anesthetic, because the drug’s European manufacturer threatened to stop importing it to the United States. By November 2012, Texas would also begin ordering propofol.

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Gayland Bradford
June 1, 2011

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Lee Taylor
June 16, 2011

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Milton Mathis
June 21, 2011

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Humberto Leal
July 7, 2011

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Mark Stroman
July 20, 2011

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Martin Robles
Aug. 10, 2011

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Steven Woods
Sept. 13, 2011

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Lawrence Brewer
Sept. 21, 2011

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Frank Garcia
Oct. 27, 2011

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Guadalupe Esparza
Nov. 16, 2011

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Rodrigo Hernandez
Jan. 26, 2012

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George Rivas
Feb. 29, 2012

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Keith Thurmond
Mar. 7, 2012

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Jesse Hernandez
Mar. 28, 2012

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Beunka Adams
April 26, 2012

July 10, 2012

The United Kingdom bans the export of propofol for use in executions.

July 18, 2012

For the first time, TDCJ uses a single drug, pentobarbital, to execute a Texas inmate: Yokamon Hearn, 33. Drug shortages force TDCJ and some other states to switch from multi-drug cocktails to single-drug methods.

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Yokamon Hearn
July 18, 2012

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Marvin Wilson
Aug. 7, 2012

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Robert Harris
Sept. 20, 2012

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Cleve Foster
Sept. 25, 2012

Sept. 27, 2012

Propofol manufacturer Fresenius Kabi USA of Schaumburg, Ill informs its distributors it will not provide the drug for use in executions. “The company does not accept orders for propofol from any departments of correction in the United States. Nor will it do so,” the company said in a statement.

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Jonathan Green
Oct. 10, 2012

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Bobby Hines
Oct. 24, 2012

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Donnie Roberts, Jr.
Oct. 31, 2012

Nov. 2012

TDCJ starts stocking propofol, according to documents obtained from inmates’ attorneys. The agency has never said what it intends to do with the drug.

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Mario Swain
Nov. 8, 2012

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Ramon Hernandez
Nov. 14, 2012

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Preston Hughes
Nov. 15, 2012

Feb. 1, 2013

Kentucky revises its execution protocol to include midazolam, which induces sleep, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. TDCJ begins ordering the same drugs later in the year.

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Carl Blue
Feb. 21, 2013

Mar. 21, 2013

TDCJ receives a shipment of propofol from Hospira. Five days later, Hospira asks TDCJ to return the drug shipment, because the company believes the prison system will use it for executions. TDCJ refuses.

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Ricky Lewis
April 9, 2013

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Ronnie Threadgill
April 16, 2013

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Richard Cobb
April 26, 2013

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Carroll Parr
May 7, 2013

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Jeffrey Williams
May 15, 2013

May 29, 2013

TDCJ orders 30 vials of midazolam from Pharmacy Innovations of Jamestown, NY, a compounding pharmacy with an office in Houston. TDCJ officials have not disclosed why they purchased midazolam. The drug has been used in lethal injections in Ohio, Florida and Oklahoma, including the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014.

June 3, 2013

TDCJ receives a shipment of hydromorphone, which is delivered by Pharmacy Innovations of Houston, along with 30 vials of midazolam. Four months later, Florida became the first state to use midazolam in an execution.

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Elroy Chester
June 12, 2013

June 24, 2013

TDCJ has hydromorphone, midazolam and 12 vials of pentobarbital in stock, according to TDCJ documents provided to death row inmates’ attorneys.

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Kimberly McCarthy
June 26, 2013

July 15, 2013

TDCJ orders 20 vials of hydromorphone from Pharmacy Innovations of Jamestown, NY. The agency declines to discuss why the drug was purchased. Hydromorphone is not part of the Texas execution protocol. It is listed in the protocols of four other states: Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky.

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John Quintanilla
July 16, 2013

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Vaughn Ross
July 18, 2013

July 31, 2013

TDCJ receives another shipment of hydromorphone. It is unclear how much was purchased.

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Douglas Feldman
July 31, 2013

Aug. 7, 2013

More than 250 vials of lethal drugs in the prison system's inventory will expire by Mar. 3, 2015, according to TDCJ information provided to death row inmate attorneys.

Aug. 19, 2013

TDCJ’s supply of pentobarbital dwindles to four vials, which expire at the end of September. There are two executions scheduled before then: Robert Garza on Sept. 19 and Arturo Diaz on Sept. 26.

If TDCJ is to abide by its protocol, four vials of pentobarbital must be present at each execution. Two are injected and two serve as backup.

The agency starts ordering pentobarbital from a variety of sources, according to documents provided to death row attorneys. The orders go out both to wholesalers of the manufactured drug and to compounding pharmacies, which are state regulated and make their own chemical mixtures.

Sept. 1, 2013

TDCJ orders compounded pentobarbital from Pharmacy Innovations of Jamestown, NY, which has offices in Houston.

Sept. 4 or 5, 2013

According to court records, Pharmacy Innovations cancels TDCJ's order for compounded pentobarbital when the company realizes that the drug is to be used in an execution.

Sept. 13, 2013

TDCJ orders two vials of manufactured pentobarbital from the state of Virginia’s Department of Corrections. That state purchased the drug from Cardinal Health, a North Carolina wholesaler.

Sept. 16, 2013

Down to its last two vials of manufactured pentobarbital, TDCJ receives two more vials of pentobarbital from the Virginia DOC.

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Robert Garza
Sept. 19, 2013

Sept. 26, 2013

TDCJ uses vials of manufactured pentobarbital purchased from Physician Sales and Services of South Carolina to execute Arturo Diaz. Backup vials of the drug, provided by Virginia, expire at the end of September and are discarded, according to TDCJ officials.

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Arturo Diaz
Sept. 26, 2013

Sept. 30, 2013

TDCJ runs out of manufactured pentobarbital.

Oct. 2, 2013

TDCJ makes its first purchase of compounded pentobarbital, eight vials, from the Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy in Spring. Four of the vials are set aside for the scheduled execution of Michael Yowell on Oct. 9.

Oct. 4, 2013

The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy asks TDCJ to return the pentobarbital it purchased after news reports revealed the company sold the drugs to the agency. TDCJ refuses.

Oct. 9, 2013

Michael Yowell is the first Texas inmate executed with compounded pentobarbital.

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Michael Yowell
Oct. 9, 2013

Nov. 1, 2013

Texas death row inmates Thomas Whitaker and Perry Williams claim that TDCJ’s plan to use compounded drugs violates their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

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Jamie McCoskey
Nov. 12, 2013

Nov. 14, 2013

Kentucky, Ohio name midazolam and hydromorphone as "back-up" execution drugs. Ohio says it will use both for a Nov. 14, 2013 execution.

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Jerry Martin
Dec. 3, 2013

Jan 16, 2014

Ohio becomes the second state to use midazolam in an execution.

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Edgar Tamayo
Jan. 22, 2014

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Suzanne Basso
Feb. 5, 2014

Mar. 7, 2014

TDCJ, which had previously released information about execution drugs at the direction of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, obtains a "threat assessment" from DPS. The assessment bolsters TDCJ’s that the names of compounding pharmacies should be kept secret.

“It is our assessment that publicly linking a pharmacy or other drug supplier to the production of controlled substances to be used in executions presents a substantial threat of physical harm to the pharmacy, other drug supplier and its personnel and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible,” DPS Director Steven McCraw wrote.

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Ray Jasper
Mar. 19, 2014

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Anthony Doyle
Mar. 27, 2014

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Tommy Sells
April 3, 2014

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Ramiro Hernandez
April 9, 2014

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Jose Villegas
April 16, 2014

April 29, 2014

Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett dies of a heart attackafter there were problems rendering him unconscious during the execution process. It was the first time that Oklahoma used midazolam as the first drug in its three-drug execution protocol.

April 30, 2014

Asked whether Texas would use midazolam as a lethal injection drug, TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst said, "We are not commenting on the specific type or quantity of drugs we have on hand. Our protocol calls for a single lethal dose of pentobarbital, which we have used since 2012. We have no immediate plans to change the execution protocol."

May 29, 2014

After receiving the DPS “threat assessment,” Abbott's office ruled that there was enough proof of potential danger to allow TDCJ to keep secret the identities of pharmacies that provide execution drugs.

Photos by: Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Syringe by Linda Yuki Nakanishi from The Noun Project

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/07/08/history-lethal-drug-use-texas/.

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