FDA Mandates Texas & Arizona to Destroy or Export Lethal Injection Drugs

April 25, 2017

On Thursday, April 20th, the FDA formally ordered both Texas and Arizona to refuse and either destroy or export all execution drugs within 90 days.


Texas was the first state to begin executing criminal offenders via lethal injection.  The state’s first execution of this type was conducted in 1982, and was done using a “three drug cocktail.”  This “cocktail” consisted of three drugs, including:

  1. Sodium thiopental (anesthetic)
  2. Pancuronium bromide (induce paralysis)
  3. Potassium chloride (stops the heart)

According to a recent article from CNN, since the first execution in 1982, there have been 1,283 executions conducted via lethal injection in the United States.  Of those 1,283 executions, 542 were conducted in the state of Texas.

According to Lindsay Meyer, a spokeswoman for the FDA, prior to 2012 the FDA “exercised enforcement discretion regarding the importation of sodium thiopental used for lethal injection.”  However, an order from the US District Court in 2012 changed this when it “permanently ordered the agency to prohibit entry of (or release shipments of) foreign manufactured thiopental that is misbranded or unapproved.”  Under this court order, Meyer explains that the FDA is required “to refuse admission to the US any shipment of foreign manufactured sodium thiopental being offered for importation that appears to be an unapproved new drug or a misbranded drug.”

FDA Intercepts Texas’ Sodium Thiopental

In its article, CNN states that, in July 2015, 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental (also referred to as ‘thiopental’) were detained by the FDA.  These vials were meant for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  A year and a half later, “in January 2017, Texas sued the FDA, requesting the Agency release the drug from federal custody.”

A document filed last week with the federal court in Galveston, Texas, states that the Agency has made its “final decision, refusing admission of the detained drugs into the United States.”

CNN explains that lethal injection drugs are currently in short supply.  This is partly due to the fact that, in 2010, pharmaceutical manufacturers in Europe banned the export of these drugs into the US.  Additionally, in response to increasing pressure from anti-execution activists, pharmaceutical companies in the US stopped producing these drugs, which has also contributed to the shortage of these drugs.

In the future, Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told CNN that the state will conduct all scheduled executions using pentobarbital, which “is a barbiturate, frequently used by veterinarians to anesthetize animals.”

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