Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Reveal the drug supplier for executions

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Opinion/Editorials Staff
Originally published Dec. 12, 2014

When the state administers its ultimate punishment, the death penalty, the process ought to be as transparent as possible.

That includes knowing the type of drugs used in lethal injections, and which pharmaceutical companies supply them to the state.

Until last year, the suppliers’ names were known, and Attorney General Greg Abbott consistently ruled that such information had to be revealed under the public’s right to know.

After several pharmaceutical companies, mainly in Europe, halted their sales of drugs for executions, Texas and other states turned to compounding pharmacies to supply the drugs whose “compounded” mixtures are not approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which now uses the single drug Pentobarbital in lethal injections, has refused to divulge the name of the compounding pharmacy or pharmacies that provide the drug, claiming that it would place the supplier in danger.

This year Abbott, while a candidate for governor, sided with the TDCJ after a “threat assessment” by the Texas Department of Public Safety noted that pharmacies tended to be “easily accessible to the public and present a soft target to violent attacks,” according to the Texas Tribune.

State officials have presented no credible evidence of actual or threatened danger to any supplier.

The biggest threat is that of potentially bad publicity for a company seen as a participant in the administration of an execution. But that should be no reason that the identity of the supplier be withheld.

Lawyers who often represent Death Row inmates sued the prison system under the Texas Public Information Act. In the wake of some recently botched executions in other states, the lawyers argued that the compounded drugs subject the condemned prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment, the Tribune reported.

Thursday a state district judge ruled that the name of the compounding pharmacy is public information and should be released.

As expected, TDCJ has indicated that it will appeal that decision.

That’s fine, but a higher court should waste no time ruling in favor of the public’s right know.