ATLANTA: Prison officials around the country have been going to extraordinary and in at least one case, legally questionable lengths to obtain a scarce lethal-injection drug, 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 lifesavers,'' California prisons official Scott Kernan emailed 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 Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of the drug and the only sodium-thiopental maker approved by the Food and Drug Administration, stopped making it.
As supplies dwindled, at least six states Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Nebraska and Tennessee obtained sodium thiopental overseas, with several of them citing Georgia as the trailblazer.
Documents obtained through open-records requests show Georgia managed to execute inmates in September and January after getting the drug from Dream Pharma, a distributor that shares a building with a driving school in a gritty London neighborhood. Dream Pharma's owner has not returned several calls and emails for comment, and an AP reporter who visited the office last week was told the owner was not available.
Last week, however, 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. ''We had questions about how the drug was imported to the U.S.,'' agency spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell said, declining to elaborate.
Georgia Corrections Department spokeswoman Joan Heath said only that the state is cooperating with federal investigators to ''make sure we're in regulatory compliance with the DEA over how we handle controlled substances.''