Arizona, Nebraska, Other States Broke Federal Law Importing Execution Drugs, Records Show

AZ Set to Carry-Out Execution with Illegal Drugs in a Matter of Hours

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ACLU of Northern CA

San Francisco – The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released records today which show that Arizona, Nebraska, and other states broke the Federal Controlled Substances Act when they imported sodium thiopental, a dangerous controlled substance commonly used in executions that is no longer available in the U.S. The DEA released all import declarations filed for sodium thiopental from January 1, 2010, to the present. Only one matches a known purchase made by prison officials – the purchase by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations in October of 2010. Seven other states are known to have directly imported the drug from Dream Pharma in the UK or Kayem Pharmaceuticals in India see map). None of the declarations provided by the DEA match these seven shipments, meaning state officials must have broken federal law in importing the drugs. The records are available here.

Among the states known to have illegally acquired sodium thiopental are Arizona and Nebraska. Arizona is set to move forward with an execution in the early morning hour of May 25, using the illegal drugs. Nebraska has an execution set for June 14.

The DEA has seized execution drugs from at least five states as part of an on-going criminal investigation into how those states imported and acquired the controlled substances. Yet, the DEA has failed to seize imported drugs from five other states, Arizona, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arkansas, and California.

The DEA provided a total of four import declarations. One matches California's import of sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma in the UK, using Chemique Pharmaceutical as the broker. The other three shipments are:

  • Hospira, importing from Milan, Italy, July 2, 2010
  • Professional Compounding Centers of America, importing from Hamburg, Germany, November 15, 2010
  • Siegfried, importing from Taipei, Taiwan, March 30, 2011

None of these shipments match publicly known importations by state officials of sodium thiopental for use in executions. Based on the records disclosed, it is not possible to tell if these are previously unknown imports of executions drugs or are unrelated to executions.

"The DEA records demonstrate that Arizona and other states broke the law. We cannot understand why the DEA has failed to act but has allowed the states to keep these illegal and dangerous drugs," said Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director for the ACLU of California. "When state officials break the law in order to carry out an execution, it makes a mockery of our justice system and puts us all at risk. State and federal officials must follow and enforce the law – that's their duty and what the public expects and deserves."

The DEA produced the import declarations in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. For more background on the state scramble for execution drugs, please visit the ACLU of Northern California website here.

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