In the middle of a controversial investigation into the state's lethal injection, Attorney General Scott Pruitt is talking about the future. He wants the state to open its own compounding pharmacy to mix and create the deadly cocktail of drugs that have become harder to get a hold of.
“Accessing those drugs, buying those drugs is very challenging because there are limitations placed upon those by the manufacturers,” Pruitt said Thursday.
Right now, the state uses a private pharmacist in Texas that was responsible for sending the wrong drug for the executions of Charles Warner and Richard Glossip. In those instances potassium acetate was used in the case of Warner and nearly used on Glossip. Potassium chloride is the correct drug according to state protocol.
Pruitt said a state run compounding pharmacy would remove the need for a private “middle-man” pharmacy potentially increasing safety, efficacy and transparency for the development and testing of the deadly three-drug cocktail used in lethal injection executions.
“It would be better if we took that all out of the equation, made the state the center piece of compounding those drugs and then providing access to defense council and others who want to test the efficacy of those drugs,” he said.
There are several hurdles however. Oklahoma does not have a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that other states have that allows them to hold the lethal injection drugs for an extended period of time. Only a handful of states currently hold licenses, including Arizona and Texas.
Compound pharmacies can also register with the Federal Drug Administration, but are not required to do so under federal law, according to DeathPenaltyInfo.org.
Access to the drugs is also becoming more difficult. Drugs like pentobarbital have been blocked by European manufacturers that have said they don’t want their drugs used in executions.
Pruitt blamed opponents of the death penalty for the lack of access. He said they campaigned against the use and the companies buckled under the pressure.
“The states have a responsibility to the families and to the justice system to carry out this responsibility in a sober and responsible way,” Pruitt said.
But not everyone is so sure. Ryan Keisel, Executive Director at Oklahoma ACLU said Oklahomans should be asking a different question all together.
“It's not how can we come up with new and novel or innovative ways to execute people, but should we be in the business of executing people at all?” he asked.
The pharmacy would also mean a new cost for tax-payers as the state’s budget hole ballooned again this week to $1.3 billion.
“Roads and bridges are falling apart, schools are moving to four days a week…and here they want us to double down to give them a longer leash to carry out the ultimate authority? It seems backward to me,” Kiesel said.
Pruitt says the pharmacy actually could be a cost saving measure, but didn't say how much. He added the talk of a compounding pharmacy was only just an idea that he has spoken to legislators about in the past, but there was no formal proposal or bill to create one.
When asked about the ongoing investigation, Pruitt said the pharmacy and the investigation had “very little or nothing do with” the other. He said there were no problems with the neither state’s protocol, nor the drugs themselves, but that the administration of the lethal cocktail of components was what is being investigated.
Five executions are on hold pending the conclusion of a grand jury investigation that was started in September 2015. Pruitt did not answer a question about when the investigation would be complete, and said he “couldn’t get into it at this point, but we will soon.”
His spokesperson, Aaron Cooper, said the jury meets at the end of February and their findings, if a decision is made, should be made public, barring an order to seal the findings from a judge.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment on this story Thursday.