A judge for the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida [official website] on Monday ruled the sedative midazolam hydrochloride is permissible in state executions. Florida is the only state in the US that uses the drug, which was implemented as part of its three-drug protocol in executions on October 15 and November 12. Witnesses of these executions voiced concern over the drug's ability to prevent pain. Following an attorney's challenge to the use of midazolam, the Florida Supreme Court [official website] stayed an execution scheduled for December 3 to December 27 and ordered [ruling, PDF] an evidentiary hearing into the use of the drug. In a two-day evidentiary review, the circuit judge held [Reuters report] there is no credible evidence the drug causes suffering or serious harm if administered in proper amounts. The Florida high court may review the findings from the circuit court's ruling and hear oral arguments on December 18.
In the US there is a shortage of commonly used lethal injection drugs, forcing a number of states to modify their execution procedures. In part, the shortage follows the decision by a major European manufacturer to discontinue the sale of pentobarbital to prisons because the Denmark-based company opposes capital punishment. Last month Ohio declared a shortage of the drug pentobarbital, and the state intends to adopt [Reuters report] a new mixture of drugs including midazolam. Earlier this year the Arkansas state legislature approved a revision [JURIST report] to its lethal injection laws, which limited the authority of state corrections officers in determining which drugs are used in lethal injections.