The drug, pancuronium bromide, is used in surgeries to provide skeletal muscle relaxation and has been included on the FDA's and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists' short supply list dating back to 2010, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday.
The drug is used in conjunction with two others in lethal injections by the Virginia Department of Corrections. The first drug renders one unconscious, the second -- pancuronium bromide -- causes paralysis and the third stops the heart.
Reprieve, an anti-death penalty advocacy group, says pancuronium bromide is only used so witnesses to an execution will not see distress in a person about to be executed. The group argues the drug also renders the condemned inmate unable to signal whether he or she is in pain if the first drug did not take effect.
Documents obtained by two lawyers by the Freedom of Information Act show the Virginia Department of Corrections had as many as 95 vials of the drug as of November, though Reprieve puts that figure closer to 60.
Reprieve argues 60 vials of pancuronium bromide could be used to treat 50 to 60 patients during surgeries.