The New York Times reports on Wednesday that the shortage of sodium thiopental, covered previously by Amicus,  is causing corrections officials in states across the country to take desperate, and possibly illegal, measures to obtain the supplies of the drug needed to carry out executions.

“Recently released documents emerging from lawsuits in many states reveal the intense communication among prison systems to help each other obtain sodium thiopental, and what amounts to a legally questionable swap club among prisons to ensure that each has the drug when it is needed for an execution.”  States are notifying each other of when they need the drugs to perform executions, and then shipping them around the country based on promises of reciprocity, possibly in violation of federal drug control statutes.  One thank-you note from Scott Kernan, under secretary for operations for California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to Charles Flanagan, the deputy director of Arizona’s Department of Corrections, stated, apparently unaware of the morbid irony, “You guys in AZ are life savers,” adding, “by [sic] you a beer next time I get that way.”  Arizona had acquired its supply under the label of veterinary use to avoid the heavy regulatory scrutiny associated with human use of the drugs.

Bradford A. Berenson, attorney for death row inmates urging the FDA and the Justice Department to investigate the practice, says states are acting as if “because this was death-penalty related, it was somehow exempt from all the normal rules.”  Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky have already been required by the DEA to turn over supplies of sodium thiopental acquired in contravention of federal law.

Photo Credit: Associated Press via New York Times