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Lake Forest firm spurs death drug scramble

  Law Promo News  -   POSTED: 2011/03/28 13:05

Ever since Lake Forest-based Hospira Inc. stopped making a key lethal injection drug, prison officials around the country have been going to extraordinary — and in at least one case, legally questionable — lengths to obtain what’s left.

States have been securing it from middlemen in Britain and a manufacturer in India and borrowing it from other states to keep their executions on track, according to records reviewed by the Associated Press.

“You guys in AZ are life savers,” California prisons official Scott Kernan e-mailed a counterpart in Arizona, with what may have been unintentional irony, in appreciation for 12 grams of the drug sent in September. “Buy you a beer next time I get that way.”

The wheeling and dealing come amid a severe shortage of sodium thiopental, a sedative that is part of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail used by nearly all 34 death penalty states. The shortage started last year, after Hospira, the sole U.S. manufacturer of the drug and the only sodium thiopental maker approved by the Food and Drug Administration, stopped making it.

Hospira said the company’s plant in Italy was the only viable place where the company could produce sodium thiopental, and Italian authorities had insisted the company prove the drug would never end up with states using it to put condemned inmates to death. The company determined that it could not make such a guarantee.

As supplies dwindled, at least six states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Nebraska and Tennessee — obtained sodium thiopental overseas.

Documents show Georgia managed to execute inmates in September and January after getting the drug from Dream Pharma of London. Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized Georgia’s entire supply — effectively blocking the scheduling of any further executions — because of concerns over whether the state circumvented the law.


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