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States Obtain Execution Drug From Indian Brokers

US prisons have bought sodium thiopental illicitly through brokers in India, skirting an EU export ban.


Sodium thiopental, lethal injection. Photo via

By Luke Walker


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With no other source for lethal injection drugs, US prisons have turned to back alley dealings to procure sodium thiopental. Following the discontinuation of approved barbiturates by the sole domestic US manufacturer and an EU ban on exportation of drugs used for capital punishment, many execution states scrambled to find what they needed by dubious means. Some prisons went so far as to conceal the intended purpose for shipments, and mislead European sellers into believing the drug was intended for medical use. In the most resent case, Nebraskan prison officials, using third party brokers out of India, fraudulently procured 500 vials of thiopental from a Swiss manufacturer. Amid the controversy, and one death row inmate, Michael Ryan, sought a stay of execution on the grounds that prisons have acquired the lethal injection drugs illegally. Nebraska successfully challenged Ryan’s suit, claiming it was frivolous; his execution is scheduled for March 6, and will likely use drugs obtained from the Indian brokers.

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