The Daily Courier Logo
Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
7:31 AM Wed, Sept. 19th

Executions on hold; FDA blocks drug imports by states

PHOENIX — The Trump administration will not allow Arizona to import drugs the state says it needs to execute inmates on death row.

In a brief order issued Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a final decision that it will not release the drugs it had seized at Sky Harbor International Airport, drugs the state Department of Corrections had attempted to import into the country.

Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said in the order that effectively kills the lawsuit filed by Arizona and other states seeking to get vials of sodium thiopental from a supplier in India.

There was no immediate response from state prison officials to the decision or to questions about how much it paid for the now-seized drugs.

Arizona along with Nebraska and Texas each ordered 1,000 vials of the drug, a muscle relaxant used in the execution process, from an overseas company after being unable to get it legally in the United States because the domestic manufacturer refused to sell it for executions.

The decision to order the drugs came despite warnings by the FDA in 2015 that buying the drug from India-based Harris Pharma would be illegal. That followed a 2012 decision by a federal judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by inmates, requiring the federal agency to block importation of the drug as unapproved.

Customs and Border Protection seized the drugs. Texas then took the lead, filing suit against the FDA.

Arizona and other states have a shifting history in the use of its execution drugs. At one point the drug of choice was pentobarbital, a barbituate. But European manufacturers banned its sale for executions.

The current drug of choice is midazolam. But that resulted in reports of botched executions, with inmates remaining alive and gasping for long periods and questions raised about whether they were truly unconscious.

Despite that, the U.S. Supreme Court has continued to allow its use.

Arizona has not carried out an execution since it put Joseph Wood Jr. to death in 2014 in a procedure that took nearly two hours. He had been convicted of the 1989 death in Tucson of his girlfriend and her father.