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Texas Executes First Inmate with Animal Drug

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 04, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unable to secure a stay of execution before Tuesday, Texas death row inmate Cary Kerr became the state's first inmate to be executed using a new sedative, pentobarbital.

The shocking part of this story isn't that Cary Kerr was executed--after all, Texas executes more prisoners than any other state.

No, it's that, in the United States, pentobarbital is most prominently used in veterinary medicine.

Texas' use of pentobarbital is a response to a nation-wide shortage of the original death penalty drug, sodium thiopental. Already in short supply, Reuters reports that Hospira, the company that makes the drug, announced in January that it plans to stop production, forcing states to find a new sedative.

Ohio and Oklahoma have already begun use of pentobarbital, and Alabama has recently decided to use the sedative as well.

Death row inmates in these states have challenged the use of the drug, but were met with little success.

Even though the sedative is most often used in animal anesthesia and euthanasia, a federal appeals court has upheld the use of the drug in the executions of two inmates. Testimony indicated that a sufficient amount could render a human unconscious.

The Supreme Court also doesn't seem to be too concerned.

Cleve Foster was supposed to be Texas' first pentobarbital execution, not Cary Kerr. But on appeal, the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution based on his argument that he was represented by ineffective counsel.

They paid little attention to his assertion that pentobarbital is inhumane.

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