Kentucky officials said Friday they have turned over the state’s supplies of a key lethal injection drug to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration over concerns about the overseas source of the drugs.
Officials in Tennessee reported doing likewise.
Kentucky officials said they were cooperating in an unspecified federal investigation and willingly turned over the state’s entire supply of sodium thiopental — enough for three executions — to the DEA.
“There was no court order and no search warrant,” said Jennifer Brislin, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Justice Cabinet.
Dorinda Carter, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction, said the department turned over its supply.
Several states have scrambled to find a new supplier of the fast-acting sedative since its primary manufacturer in the United States stopped making the drug.
According to records obtained by The Associated Press, Tennessee officials purchased the drug from an overseas supplier last year. Kentucky bought 18 grams of sodium thiopental in February from a Georgia company at a cost of $1,616.83.
In March, the DEA seized Georgia’s entire supply, effectively blocking the scheduling of any further executions there. Defense attorneys claim Georgia’s supply came from a fly-by-night British supplier.
The DEA did not say why it was seized, except that there were questions about how it was imported.
Brislin declined to comment further about the case Friday, as did DEA special agents Jim Balcom in Louisville and Chuvalo J. Truesdell in Atlanta.
Kentucky public defender David Barron questioned in a letter to the Justice Department where the drug that Kentucky purchased had originated.
Barron, who represents a Kentucky man sentenced to death for killing a sheriff and a deputy, alleged that the thiopental was likely illegally imported.
“I think the DEA recognizes that this was likely illegally obtained,” Barron said Friday.
The drug has been in short supply since its primary U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc., stopped making it earlier this year.
Some states have considered switching from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital, a sedative that has a range of medical uses and is used to euthanize animals.
Pentobarbital has already been used to execute prisoners in Ohio and Oklahoma.
Brislin said she doesn’t know when the sodium thiopental will be returned to Kentucky, so the state will continue to look for other sources of the drug.
Turning the drug over to the DEA will have no immediate effect on executions. Kentucky has none scheduled.
“We remain under a judge’s order that stops all executions indefinitely,” Brislin said.