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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s prisons agency is trying to obtain a drug that could reverse the lethal injection process if needed by stopping the effects of another drug previously used in problematic executions.

The request to use the drug would come if executioners weren’t confident the first of three lethal drugs would render a prisoner unconscious, Gary Mohr, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in federal court testimony Jan. 6. Mohr said he would inform Republican Gov. John Kasich and ask for a reprieve at that point.

“Governor, I am not confident that we, in fact, can achieve a successful execution. I want to reverse the effects of this,” Mohr testified, describing the language he would use in such a circumstance.

Mohr testified that Ohio planned to order the drug, flumazenil, but didn’t currently have it.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith declined to comment Thursday on Mohr’s testimony, a copy of which was reviewed by The Associated Press. Flumazenil is used to reverse the effects of a sedative called midazolam when that drug causes bad reactions in patients. Midazolam is the first drug in Ohio’s new three-drug execution method. Magistrate Judge Michael Merz is weighing a challenge to this method’s constitutionality, following a weeklong hearing.

Ohio appears to be the first state using midazolam as a lethal drug to seek a reversal drug for it, according to experts at the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic and Reprieve, a London-based human rights organization that tracks capital punishment issues. Florida and Oklahoma have used midazolam as the first in a three-drug protocol. Alabama and Virginia have proposed it as part of a three-drug protocol.

Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during the 26 minutes it took him to die, the longest execution since the state resumed putting prisoners to death in 1999. The state used a two-drug method with McGuire, starting with midazolam, its first use for executions in the country.

Attorneys challenging the method say midazolam is unlikely to relieve an inmate’s pain. The drug, which is meant to sedate inmates, also was used in a problematic 2014 execution in Arizona. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in an Oklahoma case. The state says the three-drug method is similar to its past execution process, which survived court challenges. State attorneys also say the Supreme Court ruling last year makes clear the use of midazolam is allowable.

Ohio plans to put child killer Ronald Phillips to death next month with midazolam and two other drugs.

Columbus surgeon Jonathan Groner, a lethal injection expert, said past problems with Ohio executions have come about because executioners didn’t properly connect the IVs.

“A reversal drug will not help with that problem and could make it worse — if the IV is not in the vein, giving more drugs may cause more pain,” Groner said.

In a related development, the state was expected on Friday to tell Merz whether its supply of lethal injection drugs is enough to carry out far more executions than it claimed three months ago. On Oct. 3, the state said it planned to use the new method on Phillips and two other inmates. On Monday, the AP reported that documents show Ohio has obtained enough lethal drugs to carry out dozens of executions. Merz then ordered the state to provide “a statement of its intentions” when it came to drugs used in future executions.

— Andrew Welsh-Huggins

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  • It would be nice of the article mentioned the other drugs used in the three-drug cocktail. It’s hard to have an opinion when that vital piece of information is left out, poor form.

    • Why waste a good drug on a loser. The answer is not a drug antagonist though neostigmine can antagonize succinylcholine and calcium gluconate might work for hyperkalemia.

      The answer is to avoid using the standard arm vein approach altogether, for even a “good” vein can collapse at any time during an IV infusion, which is especially poor form if it happens in the middle of the Our Fathers. The most sure fire way is to do a saphenous vein cut down at the ankle, inserting a cannula through which the drugs will easily flow.

      No muss, no fuss.

    • I think you are on the right track. For the article sakes, narcan would work to ‘reverse’ the effects. I’ve always entertained the idea of using any number of random narcotics that fill the police evidence rooms around the country for ‘lethal’ injection. What death row inmate would argue getting high and overdosing like countless other Americans is cruel and unusual? You have to admit its effective as well, in most cases the junkies are dead before they can remove the needle from their arm. It was always rumored though, that the crack deaths around here were related to cutting it with fentanyl…

  • Having spent many years living on a farm and seeing many animals slaughtered I can testify there is no pretty way to kill a animal for food purposes.

    All killing of life is ugly.

    Though when killing of an animal for food is necessary I have found in my opinion the quickest most painless way to kill the animal is to shoot the animal. It is fast, it is lethal, and the animal usually dies and never knew what hit it, that it was going to happen, or that it did happen.

    Execution by firing squad to me would be my preferred method of execution for those sentenced to death. It seems to be the most humane way in my opinion to execute a death.

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