TIME Crime

Ohio Ups Lethal-Injection Dosages After Controversial Execution

After the January execution of Dennis McGuire who reportedly made snorting and snoring noises during the 25-minute process, the state will increase the strength of the lethal drugs used for future executions

Ohio will increase the dosages of two lethal-injection drugs for future executions, after reviewing an execution many believe to have gone wrong and which became a rallying cry for advocates who believe current methods are unconstitutional.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) announced on Monday it would increase the dosage of sedative midazolam from 10 mg to 50 mg while upping the dosage of hydromorphone, which is used to stop one’s breathing, from 40 mg to 50 mg. The change follows the January execution of Dennis McGuire, who reportedly made snorting and snoring noises during the 25-minute process.

But even though DRC said it would alter its lethal-injection cocktail, the review determined that McGuire’s execution was “conducted in a constitutional manner” consistent with state policy after speaking with prison officials, family members and media representatives who witnessed the execution.

“DRC remains confident that its current drug regimen is sufficient to conduct a humane and constitutional execution, but also sees no reason not to increase the dosage levels to reaffirm that the drugs will, without doubt, cause profound general anesthetic and ventilatory-depressant effects,” the report says.

David Lubarsky, a University of Miami anesthesiologist who studies lethal injection, says the change in dosage is an admission that the McGuire execution did not go as planned.

“This is just proof that they don’t know what they’re doing,” Lubarsky says. “What states like Ohio are doing has never been vetted, never been tested.”

In January, Harvard Medical School anesthesiologist David Waisel gave sworn testimony and a declaration on behalf of McGuire, who was fighting for a stay of execution, stating that the dosages the state planned to administer were inadequate.

“There is, at the very least, a substantial risk an inmate such as McGuire will be aware of and experience air hunger as the ventilatory-depressant effects of hydromorphone and midazolam take effect,” Waisel said. Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiologist testifying on behalf of the state, disagreed with Waisel’s statement, saying that the dosages that Ohio planned to use for McGuire were adequate.

Lubarsky admits that the increased amounts will probably induce a deeper point of anesthesia earlier in the process. But because these sorts of dosages have never been tested, it’s difficult to discern their true effects.

“In a civilized society, we would be carefully testing this,” Lubarsky says. “But states are reckless in administering so many different protocols with so many changes with unproved efficacy. It constitutes one giant experiment.”

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