Arizona Again Tries to Illegally Import Execution Drug

October 18, 2017

The Arizona Department of Corrections paid nearly $27,000 to import from overseas an illegal drug for executions by lethal injection, but federal officials stopped the shipment at the airport.

According to heavily redacted documents obtained by The Arizona Republic, the Corrections Department contracted to purchase 1,000 vials of the anesthetic sodium thiopental. And although the seller's name and information are blacked out on the documents, an offer to sell the drug to Arizona is virtually identical to an unredacted offer sent to corrections officials in Nebraska from a pharmaceutical supplier in India.

The Nebraska shipment was also stopped by agents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In June, The Republic sent a request to DOC under the Arizona Public Records Law seeking information about attempts to purchase thiopental. The request was ignored. The Republic was able to obtain the redacted documents because they were part of the legal "discovery" process in a federal lawsuit seeking transparency about executions from the Corrections Department. The Republic is party to the lawsuit.

Thiopental is the same drug that Arizona and other states were importing from England after the drug became unavailable in the U.S. In 2010, The Republic exposed how DOC was working with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection and FDA officials to bypass drug importation laws.

Thiopental is an older anesthetic that predates the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. As such, it has never been approved by the FDA for importation. It was used as the first of three drugs in lethal-injection procedures nationwide.

After The Republic reported on the imports in 2010, the British government and other European countries shut down exports of the drug. The U.S. District Court and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled that the imports were illegal, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated supplies of the drug from state corrections departments.

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