The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is conducting a multistate criminal investigation into the actions that prison systems have taken to obtain a death drug no longer produced in the United States, documents obtained by the Bay Guardian indicate.
The documents don’t reveal the specific targets of the investigation, but federal agents have siezed drug shipments in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee and are apparently also looking into drug procurement policies in California, Arkansas, Alaska and Arizona.
The states have been scrambling to obtain sodium thiopental, a drug used in executions, after the lone American manufacturer, Hospira Corp., stopped producing it last year.
Georgia and Arizona both received shipments of the drug from Dream Pharma, a British wholesaler that, according to the Associated Press, “shares a building with a driving school in a gritty London neighborhood.” And California sent agents on a secret mission to get some of Arizona’s supply.
Several other states, including Georgia, obtained the drugs from a different British supplier, Link Pharmaceuticals. According to the Associated Press, Nebraska’s supply was imported from India.
Most of the states imported the drugs without the proper DEA paperwork, a federal crime, the documents show.
The documents are the latest released as the result of a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California and the Bay Guardian seeking access to all records related to the import of the death drug. The DEA this week released 71 pages of documents, but withheld 160 pages, justifying the withholding by saying that some of the records are part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
A May 16 letter from Katherine Myrick, the DEA’s chief Freedom of Information Officer, states that there are “two active investigations” and that release of the records could “reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement procedings.”
The documents reveal how desperately state prison authorities were trying to find a way to procure the drug — and how concerned the DEA was about the import of a controlled substance by agencies that had no medical or research functions.
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