Amid legal questions regarding the procurement of the drug, Arkansas is the most recent state to surrender its supply of a key lethal-injection drug obtained from a British supplier.
On Thursday, the State Department of Correction spokeswoman Dina Tyler said that earlier this month, Arkansas handed its supply of sodium thiopental procured from London-based Dream Pharma to the federal drug officials.
Lethal injections employ Sodium thiopental as a sedative in the making of their three-drug cocktail. Sodium thiopental has not been found lately since its only manufacturer in the US ceased its production. This encouraged death-penalty states like Arkansas and at least half a dozen others to scout for suppliers overseas.
That shift resulted in legal challenges by attorneys for death-row inmates about whether the states circumvented the law to get the drug and whether the drug would cause an inmate unnecessary pain and suffering. Georgia’s entire drug supply was seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in March, and supplies from Kentucky and Tennessee were also later seized by the DEA agents.
Confiscation of this drug effectively halted executions in those states-temporarily. A different drug was used to execute an inmate in Georgia.
A lawsuit claiming that sodium thiopental obtained from Dream Pharma could cause unnecessary suffering has resulted in no scheduled executions in Arkansas. However, the state would still not be able to carry out a scheduled execution without finding another supplier or using a different drug.
According to court documents filed by Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Arkansas handed over its last supply of sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma on July 5. McDaniel was of the opinion that some of the lawsuit’s arguments were mooted with the move made.
In the court brief, the attorney general said, “The controversy the prisoners have attempted to create regarding the three alleged risks arising from sodium thiopental obtained from Dream Pharma no longer exists.”
The comments were declined on Thursday night by the federal public defender’s office, whose lawyers represent some of the inmates, as well as William J. Bryant, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the DEA in Little Rock.
Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said that “With the concerns around the drug, we think it was a prudent step for the (corrections) department to take.”
The prisons spokeswoman, Tyler said that the state could identify another sodium thiopental supplier overseas, borrow the drug from other states, or change over to another execution drug.
She said, “Right now we’re just exploring our options. We don’t have any pending executions, which gives us time to figure out which direction is best for the state and the agency.”
Concerns have been raised about the use of other drugs in lethal injections. As claimed by an inmate in Georgia: the sedative pentobarbital, the state’s new execution drug, would cause him unnecessary pain and suffering.
Since 2005, Arkansas has not put anyone on the death row.
Apart from the debate over sodium thiopental, attorneys for death-row inmates claim that the state Constitution has been violated because legislators had no authority to reassign responsibility for execution policies from the Legislature to the Department of Correction in 2009.