Federal authorities seized two illegal shipments of a drug used in lethal injections, bound for the Arizona and Texas prison systems.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it confiscated shipments of sodium thiopental, a compound used to induce unconsciousness in the three-drug cocktail previously administered in lethal injections, according to 12 News in Tuscon. The FDA said the drugs had been shipped to Arizona and Texas from outside the country and were impounded upon arrival. Sodium thiopental was declared by the courts as unapproved for use in humans and cannot be legally imported into the United States, according to a statement issued by FDA spokesman, Jeff Ventura
Federal agents confiscated one shipment after it arrived at the airport in Phoenix, Ariz., however details surrounding the Texas seizure are unknown. This comes as many U.S. states are facing a shortage of drugs to carry out death sentences.
Some states have experimented with different drug combinations as well as single-drug executions but all have been challenged as to their effectiveness and whether these methods can humanely cause death. The shortage of drugs came after the European Union banned the export of chemicals used for lethal injections. Since then, some states have resorted to so-called “compounding pharmacies” to get the drugs needed to continue executions, or completely postpone them.
Other states have considered alternate methods of putting condemned prisoners to death, with Tennessee reinstating the electric chair and Utah bringing back the firing squad. Although the importation of sodium thiopental is considered illegal, some states are challenging the FDA ruling.
Texas claimed that it went through the proper procedure to purchase the drug, including FDA notification. Ohio and Arizona are contesting FDA authority to declare the drug off-limits.
Since the E.U. restricted its export, one provider of sodium thiopental has reportedly been identified as Harris Pharma of India. The company was identified after Nebraska attempted to purchase $54,000 of the drug, but was prevented from doing so by the FDA.
Harris Pharma CEO Chris Harris, implicated other states that are attempting to illegally buy the drug, in a correspondence released to the media under a Freedom of Information request, but did not do so by name, according to the report.
“Just wanted to let you know have a few states who have already ordered sodium thiopental. Would Nebraska be interested as I will have a few thousand vials extra,” wrote Harris.
No one was available for comment at the company’s office, which is in a home located in Kolkata, India. Defense attorney Maurie Levin, questioned the reasoning behind why a state would attempt to illegally import drugs from a source with unknown manufacturing standards and run the risk of a botched execution.