Texas death chamber execution gurney. (credit: AP)

Texas death chamber execution gurney. (credit: AP)

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — The nation’s most active death penalty state will continue to use the same execution drug but won’t say how it will replace its supply that expires this month, Texas prison officials said Thursday.

“We have not changed our current execution protocol and have no immediate plans to do so,” Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement to The Associated Press. He would not elaborate on how the state will obtain the drug.

Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of the sedative pentobarbital last year after one of the drugs used in its previous three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain and the state’s supply expired. Pentobarbital has been used alone or in concert with other drugs in all executions in the U.S. the past two years.

Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs’ use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

Some death penalty states, including Georgia, have said they’re turning to compounding pharmacies for pentobarbital. Such pharmacies make customized drugs not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use. It’s hard to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.

Missouri, meanwhile, is planning to use propofol, an anesthetic which gained infamy in the 2009 death of pop star Michael Jackson, as the lethal drug for scheduled executions of two convicted killers later this year.

Texas by far has executed more inmates than any other U.S. state since a Supreme Court ruling in 1976 allowed executions to resume. Since 1982, when Texas resumed carrying out capital punishment, the state has executed 503 inmates.

Another prisoner was set to die Thursday evening.

As of May 2012, Texas had 46 of the 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital — presumably enough to execute as many as 23 prisoners, since each execution requires a 5-gram dose. The execution Thursday of Robert Gene Garza, convicted of being involved in the fatal ambush shootings of four women in the Rio Grande Valley, would be the 21st lethal injection since that disclosure.

It’s possible the drug issue could result in court challenges by death penalty opponents or attorneys for the inmates facing imminent execution, such as Arturo Diaz, set to die in Texas next week for the slaying of a Rio Grande Valley man stabbed nearly 100 times during a 1999 robbery.

Garza, in late appeals Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court, contended the state should disclose the expiration date of drugs intended for his execution, arguing that those nearing the end of their shelf life could fail and leave him in pain, paralyzed or comatose.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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