Saturday, February 23, 2013

U.S. States Jonesing for Drugs

Georgia is said to be rushing to put down condemned prisoners before its stock of execution drugs expires on March 1.   Georgia is just one of several states that find the supply of drugs needed for lethal injections drying up.   Some states are even said to be hitting the black market.

Georgia confirmed to the Guardian that its entire supply of pentobarbital expires on 1 March. The expiration date leaves the state in a quandary: it still has 93 men and one woman on death row, including Hill, but with no obvious means by which to execute them.

Anti-death penalty campaigners are scathing about the unseemly haste with which Georgia appears to rushing to beat the deadline. "This highlights the nastiness of the process that the AG should be racing to kill prisoners ahead of an expiration date," said Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Georgia's difficulties procuring execution drugs is a reflection of the gradual stranglehold that is being put on the US death penalty by authorities and companies around the world refusing to act as accomplices in the death sentence. The European commission, following unilateral action by the UK, has imposed restrictions on the export of medicines to all US corrections departments.

As a result of the European squeeze, Hospira, the only US manufacturer of sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic that was used widely in the triple cocktail of lethal injections, ceased production in 2011. That, in turn, forced states including Georgia to revise their death protocols, shifting to a single injection of pentobarbital.

But now supplies of pentobarbital are also running out. One of the leading manufacturers of the drug, the Danish firm Lundbeck, has introduced tough restrictions on the distribution of the drug to prevent it falling into the hands of US executioners.

As legal routes for the procurement of medical drugs have been successively shut down, several of the 33 states that still practice the death penalty have resorted to shady methods for acquiring them. Georgia was exposed in 2011 as having been one of the states that bought lethal injection drugs from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed company that operated out of a driving school in west London.