Texas turns to pharmacy for custom-made execution drug


HOUSTON — Texas carried out yet another controversial execution Wednesday.

Michael Yowell, 43, was put to death by lethal injection about 7 p.m. for killing his parents at their Lubbock home 15 years ago. The drug-fueled attack also left his 89-year-old grandmother dead.

Yowell was the 14th inmate executed this year in Texas, the country’s most active death penalty state, which has executed more than 500 prisoners.

But Yowell did not die like the others.

Last month, Texas officials were facing a shortage of the drug used in lethal injections, pentobarbital, after the manufacturer announced that the drug was unsafe for use in lethal injections and restricted its sale. Texas had already switched to pentobarbital from another execution drug, sodium thiopental, after a U.S. supplier of the latter halted distribution amid international protests.


So the state did what others have done: turned to a compounding pharmacy, which can custom-make drugs without federal scrutiny.

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice released a statement to The Times noting that it would “continue to use pentobarbital to carry out executions. The agency has purchased a new supply of the drug from a Texas pharmacy that has the ability to compound.”

“The purchase will allow the agency to carry out all currently scheduled executions,” spokesman Jason Clark said.

Earlier this month, Yowell and two other condemned prisoners sued the state in federal court, arguing the use of untested drugs during an execution would be cruel and unusual punishment.

His execution was delayed briefly until the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

Yowell’s attorneys released a statement to The Times saying they were “extremely disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s decision. They noted that the use of compounded drugs was “a dramatic change from prior practice — making the need for oversight, now and in the future — that much more important.”

“Surely this is not the way we want our government to carry out its most solemn duty,” said the attorneys, Maurie Levin and Bobbie Stratton.


A handful of states either have used or intend to use compounding pharmacies to supply lethal injection drugs.

According to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, South Dakota carried out two executions last year after obtaining drugs from compounders; Georgia officials procured drugs from an unidentified compounding pharmacy for an execution this year that was stayed; Pennsylvania obtained drugs from a compounder but has not used them; and Colorado officials made inquiries to compounding pharmacies about lethal injection drugs.


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