Thirteen States Seek Help from Justice Department for Lethal Injection Drug

In January, attorneys general from 13 states wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice related to the recent shortage of sodium thiopental for lethal injections in the U.S. The state officials, including those in Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee, asked for help in “identifying an appropriate source for sodium thiopental or making supplies held by the Federal Government available to the States.” Earlier this year, the sole U.S. manufacturer announced that it would no longer produce sodium thiopental because of objections from Italy where the drug was produced. Great Britain has also taken action to prevent further exportation of this drug from suppliers (see picture) there to U.S. states for use in lethal injections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had previously allowed (without testing) shipments of the drug from overseas to be forwarded to states such as Arizona and California.

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(Picture of Dream Pharma in London, foreign source for recent lethal injections performed in U.S.)

More recently, a suit has been filed by six capital defendants against the FDA, asserting that it should supervise the quality of any execution drugs from other countries.

(Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, January 25, 2011). See Lethal Injection. See also Response from attorneys who filed suit against the FDA to the letter from the state AGs.