Indian Firm Halts Sales of Execution Drug to U.S.
(04/08/2011)

ATLANTA A pharmaceutical company in India that supplied a key lethal injection drug to at least one U.S. state and contacted to a half dozen others announced it is no longer selling the drug to American prison officials.

Kayem Pharmaceutical was fast becoming a major supplier of sodium thiopental, a sedative in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail that most of the 34 death penalty states use. The sole American manufacturer stopped making the drug last year and since then at least seven states have obtained the scarce drug overseas; others got it from fellow states.

The company made the decision to refrain ourselves in selling this drug where the purpose is purely for lethal injection and its misuse because it cherished the ethos of Hinduism, according to the Kayem website.

Nebraska announced in January it had acquired 500 grams of the drug from Kayem, and a company salesman said he also sold the drug to South Dakota prison officials. The salesman, Tony Atwater, said he and a colleague reached out to about eight states.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration seized Georgia's entire supply of sodium thiopental in March amid questions in a condemned inmates lawsuit about whether Georgia circumvented the law in obtaining the drug from an English company. DEA agents also took Kentuckys and Tennessees supply, effectively preventing executions in the three states.

The sodium thiopental supply shortage began when Hospira, Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., stopped making the drug last year and grew worse in January when the company announced it would not resume production. Another supplier, British firm Archimedes Pharma Limited, does not directly export the drug to the U.S. and it does not keep information on its product users, according to company officials.

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska and Tennessee have obtained sodium thiopental overseas.

South Dakota, which announced it had purchased enough sodium thiopental to carry out the executions of its two death row inmates, did not say how it obtained the drug.

As the shortage continues, some states are switching to alternatives. Ohio and Oklahoma have used pentobarbital, a stronger sedative often used to euthanize animals, to execute inmates. Texas is also swapping out sodium thiopental in favor of pentobarbital in its three-drug cocktail. Mississippi and Arizona are considering similar moves.

Officials in Nebraska, which bought the drug from the Indian firm for about $2,000, declined to comment on Kayem's decision. Corrections spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith said the state still has its sodium thiopental.

Atwater plans to start his own venture with another Kayem salesman to continue selling sodium thiopental to the U.S. He said he has pitched the drug to corrections officials as a way to make inroads to sell other pharmaceuticals.

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