Oklahoma Is Giving up on Lethal Injections, Plans on Using Nitrogen to Suffocate Inmates

View of the gas chamber used for executions inside 'Death House' at the Florence prison complex in Florence, MIKE FIALA/AFP/Getty Images

Oklahoma will soon execute its prisoners using nitrogen or any other inert gas as the state cannot acquire the drugs needed for lethal injection.

State officials announced they are working on developing and finalizing new protocols which would see inmates suffocate to death by inhaling the gas.

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) is currently studying forms of inert gas to develop the best way to carry out the executions and further details will be released.

"The victims of death row inmates have waited long enough for justice," Allbaugh said. "Trying to find alternative compounds or someone with prescribing authority willing to provide us with the drugs is becoming exceedingly difficult, and we will not attempt to obtain the drugs illegally."

Several states are attempting to find new ways to perform executions as pharmaceutical companies expressed objections to their drugs being used in the procedures, with some refusing to sell them to prisons.

The issues surrounding the method of lethal injections were highlighted during the recent botched execution of Alabama inmate Doyle Lee Hamm. The convicted murderer is suing the state after medical professionals at Holman Correctional Facility failed to find a suitable vein for more than two hours, causing the 61-year-old "severe bleeding and pain" which his lawyers argued amounted to "physical and psychological torture."

Oklahoma—who have botched the previous two executions using lethal injections—believe using gas is the best way to move forward and ensure "justice is met for victims of heinous crimes."

"Executions are the most profound application of state power," Attorney General Mike Hunter said. "I believe in justice for victims and their families, and in capital punishment as appropriate for dealing with those whose commit these crimes. Using an inert gas will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain and requires no complex medical procedures.

"The people of Oklahoma spoke clearly when an overwhelming majority of the electorate voted to amend the constitution and guarantee the state's power to impose capital punishment two years ago. As state leaders, it is our duty to utilize an effective and humane manner that satisfies both the constitution and the court system."

However, not everyone is sure that inert gas can be considered an effective form of execution.

Dale Baich, who represents Oklahoma death-row prisoners, told NBC: "Who are the experts on nitrogen and nitrogen hypoxia who will be brought in? What research has the state undertaken to ensure the safety and legality of this new process?

"Without complete transparency, we have no assurance that executions won't continue to be problematic. The state should provide more answers before asking the people to trust it to carry out an execution in a humane and legal manner."

The United States Air Force Flight Surgeon's Guide says pilots who are exposed to inert gas while in high altitude experience symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, and headaches before losing consciousness. Occasionally, some people experience no sensations at all leading up to the loss of conscious.

Death occurs if the brain does not displace the inert gas with oxygen after a few minutes.