Breaking News: DEA seizes Georgia's execution drugs

posted Mar 15, 2011, 8:36 PM by Kathryn Hamoudah   [ updated Aug 31, 2012, 8:29 AM by GFADP staff ]

There has been a major development regarding Georgia’s death penalty.
Earlier today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrived at the
Georgia Department of Corrections and confiscated their supply of sodium
thiopental, one of the three drugs used in Georgia’s lethal injection
procedure. This development comes in the wake of a series of litigation
that identified Georgia procured its supply of the drug from a fly-by-night
shop located in the back of a driving school in England. These black market
drugs were used to carry out the executions of Georgians Brandon Rhode and
Emmanuel Hammond.  Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty members
have repeatedly spoken out about our concerns about Georgia using such
shady drugs while taken a person’s life.

This story has national significance, as there has been a nationwide
shortage of sodium thiopental that started in 2010 leaving many other
states in similar positions to Georgia. In the coming days we hope to learn
what the impact of today’s action by the DEA will mean for Georgia and the
rest of the country. We will keep you posted.

Below is more information from the Associated Press and a statement from GFADP.

GFADP Chairperson Kathryn Hamoudah comments on today’s developments:

“Today’s action by the DEA provides yet another reason why the state has no business taking the lives of Georgians. Like in the Troy Davis case, once again, the arbitrary and cruel nature of Georgia’s death penalty has fallen under national scrutiny

We would have hoped that Georgia would have had the foresight and decency to halt executions in light of the national and international concerns about the source and viability of lethal injection, .Instead, the Georgia Department of Corrections went around the law to buy questionable drugs and then used them to extinguish two men. Now, federal intervention has forced Georgia to give up its black market drugs.”

APNewsBreak: DEA seizes key execution drug in Ga.

© 2011 The Associated Press

March 15, 2011, 7:53PM

ATLANTA — The Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday seized Georgia's
supply of a key lethal injection drug less than two months after the state
executed a man who unsuccessfully argued it was bought from a
"fly-by-night" supplier in England.

Agency spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell wouldn't elaborate on exactly why the
DEA wanted to inspect Georgia's supply of sodium thiopental, a sedative
that is part of a three-drug cocktail used in executions that has been in
short supply since the sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making it.

"We had questions about how the drug was imported to the U.S.," he said.
"There were concerns."

No more execution dates in Georgia have been scheduled and it's unlikely
any will be set before the issue is resolved. Georgia Attorney General's
Office spokeswoman Lauren Kane said prosecutors couldn't ask a judge to set
executions if corrections officials didn't have the necessary supplies to
carry one out.

Georgia's stockpile of the drug has been a target of death row inmates and
capital punishment critics because corrections officials released documents
this year showing the state obtained the drug from Link Pharmaceuticals, a
firm purchased five years ago by Archimedes Pharma Limited. Both are
British firms.

The drug was used in January to execute Emmanuel Hammond, 45-year-old man
convicted for the 1988 shotgun slaying of an Atlanta preschool teacher. His
attorneys sought a delay to gather more information on how the state
obtained the drug, claiming in court documents it came from a "fly-by-night
supplier operating from the back of a driving school in England." They said
the drug could have been counterfeit.

The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as lower courts, rejected Hammond's

Joan Heath, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections, said
state officials were not concerned with the quality of the drug.

"We contacted the DEA and asked them for a regulatory review, and that's
what we're doing," she said. "We're going to make sure we're in regulatory
compliance with the DEA over how we handle controlled substances."

Hammond's attorney, Brian Mendelsohn, declined to comment.

The most recent complaint was filed by Roy Willard Blankenship, a death row
inmate who in February wanted a judge to call off his execution until the
state released more details of its 20-gram supply of sodium thiopental. The
complaint contended that an expired drug may not fully put Blankenship to
sleep — which could make his death extremely painful.

Link Pharmaceuticals didn't exist in 2010, and its name hasn't been on
labels since May 2007, the lawsuit said. Sodium thiopental typically has a
shelf life of four years, meaning even the state's newest supply would
expire in May of this year, the lawsuit claims.

A federal judge rejected Blankenship's arguments as "nothing more than
unreasonable speculation." He added that even if Blankenship could prove
the supply expired, he failed to show it "creates a risk that is sure or
very likely to cause serious illness or needless suffering."

The shortage has delayed executions in several states and an Associated
Press review found that at least five states — Arizona, Arkansas,
California, Georgia and Tennessee — had to turn to England for their supply
of the drug. Nebraska, meanwhile, secured a stockpile from an Indian firm.

Truesdell, the DEA spokesman, said he was not certain if other states'
supplies of sodium thiopental were also being collected by the agency.
Officials in Arkansas and California said authorities have not seized their

Defense attorneys were elated by the news.

"We commend the DEA for forcing the Department of Corrections to
immediately cease using black market execution drugs," said William
Montross, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which had
sought to delay Blankenship's execution.

"It is an incredible relief that this federal agency has stepped up and
intervened where the state and federal courts have turned a blind eye to
the obvious problems with the procurement and use of these drugs."