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Judge blocks states from importing drug used in executions

A federal judge has ruled that US authorities are not allowed to import sodium thiopental because it is not approved for use in the United States by the FDA.

Old sparky 2011 10 13Enlarge
A leather arm strap of 'Old Sparky,' the decommissioned electric chair in which 361 prisoners were executed between 1924 and 1964, is pictured at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas, in Nov. 2007. (Fanny Carrier/AFP/Getty Images)

A federal judge has ruled that US authorities are not allowed to import sodium thiopental, a drug used to knock prisoners unconscious in executions, because it is not approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, the New York Times reported. He also directed five states that had imported the drug – Arizona, California, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee – to return their supplies to the FDA immediately, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In 2011, the only US company that manufactured the drug, Hospira Inc., stopped making it, the Wall Street Journal reported. While some states replaced the drug, used in lethal injections, with a different sedative, others got the FDA’s permission to buy sodium thiopental from foreign manufacturers.

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A group of death row inmates sued the FDA for improperly allowing a drug that is not FDA-approved into the country, Reuters reported. (Two of the inmates did not live to see the judge’s decision today as they were executed by the state of Arizona last year.)

The FDA argued that it had the discretion to allow shipments of the drug into the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the Federal District Court in Washington disagreed, Reuters reported. "The FDA appears to be simply wrapping itself in the flag of law enforcement discretion to justify its authority and masquerade an otherwise seemingly callous indifference to the health consequences of those imminently facing the executioner's needle. How utterly disappointing!" he wrote in his opinion, according to Reuters.

Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno cheered the decision, telling Reuters that, if the sodium thiopental was obtained from abroad, "we don't know the conditions under which those drugs were housed and transported, which could affect their quality."

The decision shows that “even death row inmates are entitled to the protection of the law,” Bradford Berenson, a lawyer for the inmates, said, according to the New York Times.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120327/judge-blocks-states-importing-execution-drug-sodium-thiopental