LETHAL INJECTION: Federal Agency Seizes Georgia Execution Drug

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has seized Georgia’s foreign supply of sodium thiopental, saying it will hold the drug while it investigates whether the Department of Corrections imported the drug legally. In February, attorneys representing Georgia death row inmate Andrew DeYoung sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder alleging that Georgia had violated the federal Controlled Substances Act “by failing to register as an importer of the controlled substance” sodium thiopental. Georgia reportedly obtained its supply of sodium thiopental from a small pharmaceutical company, Dream Pharma, in Great Britain. Five other states also acquired a supply of the drug in England.

States were forced to seek alternative sources of sodium thiopental after the only U.S. manufacturer of the anesthetic stopped producing the drug. Sodium thiopental is the first drug in the three-drug protocol used by most death penalty states. It is used to render the inmate unconscious before the other two drugs cause paralysis and cardiac arrest.

According to a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections, after the letter was sent challenging the legality of their action, “we contacted the DEA and asked them for a regulatory review, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re going to make sure we’re in regulatory compliance with the DEA over how we handle controlled substances.” Georgia does not currently have any executions scheduled.

(Associated Press, “Ga. Executions Off: DEA Seizes Critical Drug,” March 16, 2011; N. Koppel, “Georgia Execution Drug is Seized,” The Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2011.) Read the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from attorneys for death row inmate. See Lethal Injection.