The Killing State as Drug Addict

The Killing State as Drug Addict

The BBC news report calls the West London driving school humdrum and banal. Sort of like most places which deal drugs.

And then the BBC points out that from behind the driving school’s tinted windows, a British company was dealing each of the drugs for the lethal injection protocol used in most US prisons: sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Last year, Dream Pharma dealt enough of the chemicals to US prison officials to fuel 100 executions.

Dream Pharma first supplied the chemicals to a prison official in Arizona. And then immediately after that purchase, Arizona then sold on some of the drugs to a prison official in California.

News stories don’t report if Arizona made a cut on the trade. But much of the description so far sounds like drug dealing: buy a bigger quantity, pass it on to friends.

The way the officials from the two Western states talk about their purchase makes them sound like they are skirting law, and perhaps violating the established schedule of uses for drugs, medical or otherwise. The FDA does not specifically license drugs for killing people. Inside the prison world, where drugs can be put to illegitimate uses, Charles Flanagan from Arizona talked to his California counterpart after he sealed the London deal.

“John, as we discussed on the phone today, we have purchased the drugs we need from a company in London,” he wrote.

“Frankly, there was no possibility of getting the Sodium Thiopental from any source in the US to include from any of the departments of corrections in other states that use the same three drug protocol.

The revelations of British sourcing led Vince Cable, the British Business Secretary, to impose export restrictions on sodium thiopental last November 2010. To export the drug from Britain now requires a license. In April of this year, Cable added all the lethal injection protocol drugs to the export restrictions. And stopping the flow of these drugs to the US has halted or slewed executions in some states, according to the BBC. British death penalty reformers are using the export restrictions to try to convince other EU countries to do the same. And buffeting their anti-death penalty credentials.

Authorities that execute people in the United States would not be deterred by a popular prohibition of lethal injection drugs, however. They sought out new drugs for lethal injection purposes, especially pentobarbital, a powerful sedative produced by a Danish company, Lundbeck, but at Kansas facilities. Pentobarbital has been used to replace sodium thiopental.

Now, Lundbeck has said that it will withhold the drug from suppliers who cannot sign a commitment to not sell it to US prisons.

“Lundbeck will have to approve each order and everyone buying the product must sign a paper stating they will not sell it on to prisons,” said Ulf Wiinberg, chief executive of Lundbeck.

He said US prisons had been able to buy the drug indirectly through stores and wholesalers. “We are confident that our new distribution programme will play a substantial role in restricting prisons’ access,” he said, promising to take action against any distributor selling the drug to a prison.

Meanwhile, most US prison systems suggest that they have a stash of the drugs, and that judges are still setting execution dates. The Federal Government has intervened in the past, but only when import protocols have been violated.