Three-thousand vials of a banned execution drug that Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska have been fighting for the right to use have now expired, and Texas has vowed to buy more.
The states paid $75,000 for the drug — sodium thiopental, a powerful anesthetic — two years ago despite a warning from federal officials that it would not be allowed into the country. The shipments were seized, and since that time, the states have been engaged in a legal standoff with the Food and Drug Administration, arguing that they should be permitted to use the drug for "law enforcement purpose only."
While the sides fought in court, however, the drugs expired and may no longer be effective. Texas has indicated that it plans to buy more.
Doing so is not a simple matter.
Outlawed in the United States, sodium thiopental is still used in other countries, but most reputable drugmakers have enacted stringent measures to keep their products from being used for executions. Which is what led the three states, last time around, to a supplier in India named Chris Harris.
Harris has billed himself as a manufacturer of the drug, but a BuzzFeed News investigation cast doubt on his claims. He has no scientific expertise. He has listed two Indian facilities with the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration — one is a small rented office space, and the other is an old apartment that he left still owing rent on.
Instead, Harris purchased the drugs from another manufacturer in India, slapped his label on the vials, and then resold them at a massive profit.
Harris has repeatedly declined to speak with BuzzFeed News. “I think you people don’t understand English,” Harris wrote in 2015. “I have said I won't waste my time replying to you as you will write whatever you want anyways. STOP SENDING ME MAILS.”
According to FDA documents obtained by BuzzFeed News through an open records request, his drugs expired in May 2017.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said the lawsuit would continue.
In an affidavit last year that has not been made public until now, a state official whose name was redacted wrote that Texas "intends to continue importing thiopental sodium from the same foreign source, and with the same labeling, as the entry that FDA is currently detaining."
A TDCJ spokesperson said that the state had not yet purchased “any further drug from this supplier,” and would “reevaluate the situation at the conclusion of this case.”
In 2013, a federal appeals court found that the FDA had “a mandatory obligation” to block all illegal shipments of the drug. Since then, the FDA has maintained that it is “required to refuse entry” to the shipments.
Last time around, Texas initially planned to buy from another Indian supplier, but the deal fell through when the supplier was raided by the Indian government. Its employees were all arrested for allegedly selling opioids and party drugs illegally to Americans and Europeans.
Read the documents:
Chris McDaniel is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is C90B B2EF E872 EF22 4EDA DABB 50E6 F2BE 1164 FCAF
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