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Drug shortage looms as Arizona close to 4 executions

PHOENIX -- Four more Arizona death row inmates are close to execution dates, but the state may have to scramble to get the drugs it needs to carry out the sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently turned away appeals in the four cases, putting the inmates near the end of the line.

A shortage of the single drug that Arizona uses may force officials with the Department of Corrections to find another drug or source because the sole manufacturer of the drug pentobarbital has blocked sales for executions.

That leaves the Arizona Department of Corrections with few available choices: A compounding pharmacy could mix up a batch of pentobarbital from its base ingredients, the state could buy it outside normal distribution channels, or it could switch to another drug or combinations of drugs, according to Dale Baich, who leads the unit of the federal public defender's office that represents inmates on death row.

Any of the choices could set off another round of legal challenges, based on what other state have seen, Baich said. The source of compounding ingredients and their efficacy could be challenged, for instance.

Corrections spokesman Doug Nick told the Arizona Capitol Times the state will follow the law. Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the state is weighing its options and considering the timing of the executions.

Arizona has seen similar legal challenges about the drugs it uses in its executions.

The state switched to pentobarbital in 2011 after a shortage of sodium thiopental threatened to sideline executions. Two inmates due for execution in October challenged the department's attempt to keep the name of the drug manufacturer secret.

U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver ordered the department to reveal the drugmaker and provide the expiration date of the drug that would be used.

The batch of pentobarbital that was used to execute Edward Schad and Robert Jones last month expires this month, and additional factory-made pentobarbital likely isn't available because of the manufacturer's sales ban.

The state has yet to ask the Arizona Supreme Court for a warrant of execution for the four inmates whose appeals have been exhausted. The four are Pete Rogovich, Roger Scott, Joe Wood and Kevin Miles.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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