States Suddenly Acquiring Lethal Injection Drug from Unknown Source

Lawyers for Jeffrey Landrigan, an Arizona death row inmate scheduled for execution on October 26, have filed a motion asking courts to compel the state to reveal its source of a drug to be used in his lethal injection. Despite a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, Arizona recently announced that it has obtained new supplies of the drug. The announcement came the same day that California filed a notice in federal court that it had obtained the same drug with an expiration date of 2014. Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of the drug, said it cannot be the manufacturer of the drug because the last batch the company manufactured expires in 2011 and it will be unable to produce any more of the drug until early 2011. Both the Arizona and California Departments of Corrections have declined to reveal the source of their new supply. The FDA says that because of Hospira’s shortage, there are currently “no FDA-approved manufacturers for [sodium] thiopental,” and the agency is not aware of any supplier currently able to supply the drug to the U.S. It is possible the drug was obtained from China or India where companies that manufacture the drug exist.

Oklahoma, where Donald Wackerly was recently executed using a dose of sodium thiopental supplied by Arkansas, is also facing inquiry into the legality of how it acquired its supply. Federal law requires that transfer of a Schedule III controlled substance must take place between two Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) registrants and that a record of the transaction must be kept for two years. According to an official in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the state did not consult a DEA registrant in obtaining the drug from Arkansas and did not file paperwork regarding the transaction. Sylvia Lett, a Federal Public Defender in Arizona, said, “The refusal to provide information or solidly commit to its protocol gives the appearance that the State is hiding something. Why is the State being so secretive when the Arizona Department of Corrections is about to carry out the most severe sanction allowed by law?”

(B. Crair, “A Death Penalty Serum Mystery,” The Daily Beast, October 14, 2010; M. Kiefer, “Arizona death row inmate’s lawyers want drug info from state,” Arizona Republic, October 14, 2010). See Lethal Injection.