DEA seizes Georgia’s supply of execution drug

Questions linger over how the state imported sodium thiopental from a British company.

The Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday seized Georgia’s supply of a key lethal injection drug less than two months after the state executed a man who unsuccessfully argued it was bought from a “fly-by-night” supplier in England.

DEA spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell wouldn’t elaborate on exactly why the agency wanted to inspect Georgia’s supply of sodium thiopental, a sedative that is part of a three-drug cocktail used in executions that has been in short supply since the sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making it.

“We had questions about how the drug was imported to the U.S.,” Truesdell said. “There were concerns.”

No more execution dates in Georgia are currently set, and it’s unlikely any will be before the issue is resolved. Georgia attorney general’s office spokeswoman Lauren Kane said prosecutors couldn’t ask a judge to set executions if officials didn’t have the necessary supplies to carry one out.

Georgia’s stockpile of the drug has been a target since corrections officials released documents this year showing the state obtained the drug from Link Pharmaceuticals, a British company.

The drug was used in January to execute Emmanuel Hammond, convicted in the 1988 shotgun slaying of an Atlanta preschool teacher. His attorneys sought a delay to gather more information on how the state obtained the drug, claiming in court documents it came from a “fly-by-night supplier operating from the back of a driving school in England.” They said the drug could have been counterfeit.

The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as lower courts, rejected Hammond’s argument.

The state’s stockpile came under additional scrutiny in February when John Bentivoglio, a former deputy attorney general, asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation into whether state corrections officials violated federal law by not registering with the DEA when it imported the sodium thiopental.

“The United States has strict drug import rules for a reason: to ensure drugs used for legitimate purposes are not adulterated, counterfeit or diverted into the illicit market,” said Bentivoglio, who is representing death row inmate Andrew Grant DeYoung.

Texas’ stock of sodium thiopental expires at the end of this month, and officials are looking for alternatives.

They are trying to find a new supply of sodium thiopental and, barring that, considering a switch to another drug, possibly phenobarbital, for the three-drug cocktail. A decision is expected soon, because Texas’ next execution is scheduled for April 5.





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