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US seizes key execution drug in Georgia

The DEA confirmed Tuesday that the agency seized Georgia's supply of a key lethal injection drug because of questions about how the stockpile was imported to the U.S.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed Tuesday that the agency seized the state of Georgia's supply of a key lethal injection drug because of questions about how the stockpile was imported to the U.S.

DEA spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell said he didn't know if other states' supplies of sodium thiopental were being collected. The seizure comes less than two months after a convicted killer in Georgia was executed, despite raising questions about where the state had obtained the drug and whether or not it had expired.

Truesdell wouldn't elaborate on exactly what worried the DEA.

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

Georgia's stockpile of the drug has been a target of death row inmates and capital punishment critics since corrections officials released documents this year that showed 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 in the execution 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 argument.

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."

Sodium thiopental, a sedative that is part of a three drug cocktail used in executions, has been in short supply since the sole U.S. manufacturer decided to stop producing it.

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.