Even state bureaucrats are forced to go to the black market to get their DRUGS

Alabama Executions

Alabama bought lethal injection drugs on black market, feds seized them, report says


A year ago, Alabama officials admitted for the first time that the state had run out of at least one of the three drugs it uses for lethal injections.

Now we know why.

Alabama, like several other states, had become so desperate for a supplier that it turned to the black market, the Atlantic reported in a story this week. The federal government did not approve and the Drug Enforcement Administration seized the drugs from several states.

Those details are part of an extensive feature story the Atlantic published this week about the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. More than just a recount of that execution, the story explains why so many states have struggled to obtain the sedatives needed for the lethal three-drug cocktail.

The problematic step in the lethal injection process has been the first of the three drugs – a sedative capable of putting inmates into a coma-like state of unconsciousness.

Until 2010, states bought the sedative sodium thiopental from the U.S.-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Hospira. However, Hospira stopped making the drug that year after the Food and Drug Administration discovered that its plant in North Carolina had been producing contaminated drugs.

Hospira was the only FDA-approved source of sodium thiopental, but several states desperate for other sources of the drug soon began to look elsewhere. At least four states bought the drug from a London-based company called Dream Pharma, but anti-death penalty advocates soon revealed that Dream Pharma was little more than a front for the black market. Far from being a pharmaceutical manufacturer, Dream Pharma had two desks and a cabinet in a small dilapidated building that belonged to a driving school, the Atlantic report says.  

After Dream Pharma closed, states turned to suppliers in Mumbai and elsewhere in India for sodium thiopental, which sold them the drug until they realized that it was being used for executions, at which point they stopped.

It’s not clear which source Alabama used, but after 2011, it didn’t matter.

“Since Hospira had been the only FDA-approved supplier of sodium thiopental, states that had imported it had done so illegally,” the Atlantic reports. “Prisons had become, in effect, drug smugglers, and while the FDA may have been willing to look the other way, the DEA was not. In March 2011, agents seized Georgia’s supply of sodium thiopental. In April, they seized Tennessee’s, Kentucky’s, South Carolina’s, and Alabama’s.”

After having their supplies of black market thiopental seized, some states experimented with another barbiturate called pentobarbital, but soon the manufacturer of that drug, the Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, put restrictions on its distribution and use that prevented prisons from using it in executions.

After Lundbeck put those restrictions in place, states turned to compounding pharmacies, which make small quantities of made-to-order drugs, often for patients with allergies or other special needs.

Others began experimenting with the sedative midazolam, but in roughly one in four of those executions, the drug has failed to fully sedate the prisoners.

In Alabama, the state has refused to disclose both what drugs it uses for lethal injections and their sources of supply, citing the potential for litigation.

Several states have passed laws to make that information a state secret, even keeping from the defendants facing execution.

In the last two years, Alabama lawmakers have attempted to pass such a secrecy bill. Last year, a bill that would have made the information secret, even out of reach of a court order by a judge, died in the Alabama Senate.

This year, the Alabama House has again passed the secrecy bill and it is awaiting committee action in the Alabama Senate. 

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