Ex­e­cu­tion costs spike, Vir­ginia pays se­cret phar­macy $66,000

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

RICH­MOND | Vir­ginia prison of­fi­cials have paid a se­cret com­pound­ing phar­macy $66,000 to ob­tain lethal in­jec­tion drugs for its next two ex­e­cu­tions — roughly 63 times last year’s go­ing price for the state’s three-drug lethal in­jec­tion pack­age.

Like other states, Vir­ginia has strug­gled to ob­tain these drugs as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies block their sale for ex­e­cu­tions to avoid be­ing pub­licly ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing med­i­cal ethics.

But un­der a new law, the state can have the drugs made at a com­pound­ing phar­macy and shield its iden­tity from the pub­lic.

Vir­ginia’s lethal in­jec­tion pro­to­col calls for the use of a seda­tive — pen­to­bar­bi­tal or mi­da­zo­lam — fol­lowed by rocuro­nium bro­mide to halt breath­ing, and potas­sium chlo­ride to stop the heart.

The Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Corrections has paid this phar­macy $66,000 since Septem­ber for vials of mi­da­zo­lam and potas­sium chlo­ride, ac­cord­ing to re­ceipts pro­vided to The Associated Press through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest af­ter the phar­macy’s iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion was redacted.

Vir­ginia also re­cently pur­chased about $340 worth of rocuro­nium bro­mide from Car­di­nal Health, an Ohio-based phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal whole­saler, in­voices show.

This gives the state enough drugs to ex­e­cute two in­mates, ac­cord­ing to Lisa Kin­ney, spokes­woman for the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Corrections, as long as le­gal ap­peals don’t con­tinue be­yond the drugs’ early-2017 ex­pi­ra­tion dates.

Vir­ginia added mi­da­zo­lam to its drug pro­to­col in 2014 but has not yet used it. Me­gan McCracken, a lethal in­jec­tion ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley law school, said Vir­ginia would be the first state she knows of to use com­pounded mi­da­zo­lam to ex­e­cute an in­mate.

Death penalty op­po­nents have ob­jected to mi­da­zo­lam af­ter prob­lem­atic ex­e­cu­tions else­where. An Alabama in­mate coughed re­peat­edly and his body heaved for 13 min­utes af­ter he was sup­posed to be se­dated dur­ing his ex­e­cu­tion on Thurs­day.

The Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch re­ported in Septem­ber that the state had agreed to pay the com­pound­ing phar­macy $16,500 per drug per ex­e­cu­tion. The doc­u­ments ob­tained by the AP show the state went ahead with those pur­chases.

The drugs for Vir­ginia’s last ex­e­cu­tion, car­ried out in 2015, came cheap by com­par­i­son: Se­rial killer Al­fredo Pri­eto was put to death us­ing com­pounded pen­to­bar­bi­tal pro­vided by the state of Texas, along with other drugs Vir­ginia had in store. The go­ing price for a sup­ply of the three drugs needed for a sin­gle ex­e­cu­tion early last year was about $525, Ms. Kin­ney said.

The costs have shot up na­tion­wide since op­po­nents of the death penalty threat­ened to shame any con­ven­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany sup­ply­ing these drugs.

“When fewer sup­pli­ers are will­ing to par­tic­i­pate, the law of sup­ply and de­mand says that the price will go up,” said Robert Dun­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, which ad­vo­cates against cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. “And when there are busi­ness risks of be­com­ing known as a phar­macy that kills rather than pre­serves life, the phar­macy will charge more.”

Vir­ginia got its lat­est sup­ply of rocuro­nium bro­mide at a bar­gain price, ap­par­ently un­be­knownst to its man­u­fac­turer.

“We don’t re­ally want any part of this is­sue from a pub­lic stand­point,” said Jeff Granger, vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness strate­gies for X-GEN Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Mr. Granger told the AP he was sur­prised and con­cerned to learn that XGEN’s rocuro­nium bro­mide had been resold by a whole­saler to Vir­ginia’s prison sys­tem. He said X-GEN had tried to put con­trols in place to pre­vent its prod­ucts from be­ing used in ex­e­cu­tions.

A spokesman for Gov. Terry McAuliffe — who signed the law al­low­ing Vir­ginia to ob­tain lethal in­jec­tion drugs from the se­cret com­pound­ing phar­macy — de­clined to com­ment. Brian Coy told the Times-Dis­patch in Septem­ber that in the “mod­ern at­mos­phere, with re­spect to lethal in­jec­tions, this is the cost of en­forc­ing the law.”

An ex­e­cu­tion date of Jan. 18 has been set for Ricky Gray, who was con­victed of slay­ing a well-known fam­ily of four in Rich­mond on New Year’s Day in 2006.

The U.S. Supreme Court also re­cently re­jected an ap­peal by an­other Vir­ginia in­mate — Ivan Teleguz — was con­victed in 2006 of hir­ing a man to kill his ex­girl­friend. Teleguz has an­other ap­peal pend­ing in the 4th Cir­cuit U.S. Court of Ap­peals.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Doc­u­ments show that Vir­ginia of­fi­cials have paid a se­cret com­pound­ing phar­macy $66,000 for ex­e­cu­tion drugs since Septem­ber. The cost to carry out death sen­tences in Vir­ginia has risen dra­mat­i­cally.

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