British sodium thiopental finds its way into Arizonian death chamber

International standards

on 2 November 2010

Convicted killer Jeffery Landrigan was executed by lethal injection on October 26 for the 1989 murder of Chester Dean Dyer in Phoenix. The execution took place despite the fact that there is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, the anesthetic in the three-drug cocktail. The drug was rushed in from Britain for the execution.
Landrigan’s lawyers raised questions over the quality and constitutionality of using the sodium thiopental that was imported from Britain. They argued that the drugs could be of such poor quality that Landrigan could suffer pain during his execution.
The US District Court and the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary restraining order on the execution based on this argument. The courts wanted the State of Arizona to disclose where and how it had obtained the sodium thiopental.
Unfortunately the Supreme Court agreed by a 5-4 decision with Arizona prosecutors that there was no reason to force disclosure and the restraining order was lifted. The court order stated that “there was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect”.

Complex chain

Archimedes Pharma, the only licensed manufacturer of sodium thiopental in Britain according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, denied exporting the drug. Archimedes said that once the drugs entered the complex chain of medical supplies it cannot know where it was eventually sold. 
EU Council Regulation 1236/2005 makes it illegal to “trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.   
World Coalition member organisation Amnesty International said that Arizona’s use of a drug obtained in Britain “raises serious questions about whether there are proper controls on equipment that could be used to torture and kill”. Amnesty called for tighter EU controls to ensure that drugs cannot be exported for use in executions in the future. 

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