Five vials of clear liquid, varying sizes. One is on its side with a syringe in it.

A July 10, 2024, National Public Radio (NPR) investigation has revealed that Rite Away, a small chain of pharmacies located around San Antonio and Austin, Texas, compounded and provided pentobarbital for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) between 2019 and late 2023 to carry out lethal injection executions. During the same time period, records at the Texas Board of Pharmacy and federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) indicate the pharmacy was cited for multiple safety and cleanliness violations, including that the pharmacy was selling opioids to local drug users. According to the Texas Defender Service, the DEA filed a lawsuit in January 2022 against Rite Away, “alleging that they had dispensed controlled substances - including fentanyl - without valid prescriptions, ignored obvious red flags of diversion and abuse, and failed to keep accurate records.” In an interview with NPR, the pharmacies’ owner, Rohit Chaudhary, confirmed his pharmacy produced pentobarbital for TDCJ. During the time Rite Away provided TDCJ with pentobarbital, the state carried out more than 20 executions.

Texas plans to execute prisoner Ruben Gutierrez with pentobarbital on July 16 and has four more executions scheduled later this year. Texas has not answered whether Rite Away provided the drugs that will be used in the upcoming executions. 

The refusal of pharmaceutical manufacturers to sell drugs used for executions to prisons has caused some states to turn to in-state compounding pharmacies, like Rite Away, for drug supplies. Texas officials previously attempted to purchase sodium thiopental for lethal injection executions from an India-based organization with no pharmaceutical experience. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration seized those shipments before they reached Texas, as they were mislabeled and violated federal law. Just three years later, a separate investigation revealed that the state’s drug supplier had been on probation since 2016, when the Texas State Board of Pharmacy determined it compounded incorrect drugs for three children, sending one to the emergency room, in addition to forging quality control documents. According to Estelle Hebron Jones of the Texas Defender Service, this new discovery “is yet another example of how the secrecy around Texas’ procurement of lethal injection drugs exposes the public to risks.” She added that “when carrying out executions, Texas must be held accountable to the relevant laws, including those governing the drugs that they use to put people to death. This revelation that the corrections department is buying drugs from a pharmacy that the DOJ alleges is dealing opioids show how harmful the State’s secrecy law is and why is must be scrapped.”

Other states have recently obtained pentobarbital in efforts to continue or restart lethal injection executions. In May 2024, media reported that the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) had purchased three doses of pentobarbital for $100,000. This purchase price is double what IDOC spent in October 2023 for the same kind and quantity of drugs. In, 2011 and 2012, IDOC paid about $25,000 for the pentobarbital used in the state’s last two lethal injection executions. In February 2024, IDOC unsuccessfully attempted to execute Thomas Creech because of difficulties establishing an IV line. For Mr. Creech’s scheduled execution, IDOC officials utilized two e doses of pentobarbital, leaving just one dose remaining for future use. IDOC’s Director Josh Tewalt acknowledged after pausing Mr. Creech’s execution that officials would need more pentobarbital to carry out future lethal injection executions, and said he was confident they could acquire those drugs when necessary.

In June 2024, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and Attorney General Todd Rokita announced that the Indiana Department of Correction acquired pentobarbital to carry out a lethal injection execution for the first time in 15 years. Indiana’s last execution, in 2009, was carried out with a three-drug protocol beginning with sodium thiopental; this would be the state’s first attempt at an execution with a one-drug protocol. Indiana officials have refused to disclose where they acquired pentobarbital, citing a secrecy law that protects those involved in procuring and producing drugs for executions from public disclosure. Gov. Holcomb told reporters that the state has attempted for seven years to acquire the drugs necessary for lethal injection executions but could not disclose additional information. 


Chiara Eisner, NPR inves­ti­ga­tion reveals infor­ma­tion about death row in Texas, NPR, July 10, 2024; Tyler Spence, Holcomb dis­cuss­es con­tro­ver­sial drug to be used in planned exe­cu­tion, Indianapolis Star, June 27, 2024; Kevin Fixler, Idaho buys anoth­er round of lethal injec­tion drugs. Could next exe­cu­tion hap­pen soon?, Idaho Statesman, May 29, 2024; Chris McDaniel, Inmates Said The Drug Burned As They Died. This Is How Texas Gets Its Execution Drugs., BuzzFeed News, November 282018.

See a press release from the Texas Defender Service, here.