Nebraska's Attempt to Import Execution Drug Halted in India

A shipment of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic once widely used in executions, was recently stopped in India before it could reach Nebraska. The Indian distributor sold more than $50,000 worth of sodium thiopental to the state in May, but the shipment was stopped before leaving the country because of "improper or missing paperwork." FedEx said it halted the shipment because it did not have Food And Drug Administration clearance: "As with any international importation of a drug, data about that shipment is transmitted to federal agencies in advance, including U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration. If the shipment is authorized, we will deliver it to the recipient; if it is not, we will return it to the foreign shipper." Nebraska purchased the drugs despite the FDA's warning that importation of sodium thiopental for executions violates federal law. The FDA has consistently said that it will not allow execution drugs into the U.S. because the producers are not FDA-credited and the drugs are not approved for that purpose.

Nebraska spent $54,400 to purchase enough drugs for 300 executions from the overseas supplier. After the shipment was halted, a state spokesperson confirmed that it does not have a usable supply of lethal injection drugs. Ten people are on death row in Nebraska, though the legality of their death sentences is being challenged based upon the legislature's repeal of the state's death penalty in May.

(C. McDaniel and T. Nashrulla, "$25,000 Shipment Of Illegal Execution Drugs To Nebraska Gets Held Back In India," BuzzFeed, September 17, 2015). See Lethal Injection and Recent Legislation.