Two more U.S. states turn over executions drug in probe

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) – Tennessee and Kentucky turned over their supplies of a lethal injection drug to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which is probing how the drug was imported, officials said on Friday.

Sodium thiopental, a drug which has commonly been used in executions, is in short supply in the U.S. after a U.S. company bowed to European Union pressure and stopped making it.

U.S. authorities seized Georgia’s supplies of sodium thiopental in March due to concerns about how the drug was imported, and Georgia’s executions are on hold.

Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for Tennessee’s Department of Correction, said Friday that the state turned over its supply of the drug at the request of the DEA last week.

“There was no allegation that Tennessee has done anything improper,” said Carter. “The DEA had some concerns about the import procedures of the domestic vendor that we used.”

Carter said the state does not have an execution scheduled until September, but this “will impact our ability to carry out executions.”

“We are reviewing our options today to see what we will do from here,” Carter said. Sodium thiopental is one of three drugs Tennessee uses for executions.

Separately, an official with knowledge of the action, said that Kentucky also had turned over its supply of the drug.

The investigation of the drug imports started after a letter sent earlier this year to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on behalf of Georgia death row inmate Andrew Grant DeYoung.

In the February 24 letter, DeYoung attorney John Bentivoglio wrote that Georgia corrections officials ordered the drug from a pharmaceutical distributor in London, England.

The state received 50 vials of sodium thiopental in July, Bentivoglio said, citing public records.

But Bentivoglio said the state was not registered to import the controlled substance and failed to notify DEA about the shipment.

“I think it raises very troubling questions about the lengths to which they would go to pursue lethal injections when that process requires careful attention to the integrity of the process,” Bentivoglio told Reuters after Georgia’s supply of the drug was seized last month.

Ohio and Oklahoma have switched to using pentobarbital, which is often used to euthanize pets. Texas plans to switch for the next scheduled execution. Some death row inmates and opponents of the death penalty are trying to slow executions because of the drug controversy.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune)

Two more U.S. states turn over executions drug in probe