States dying to get the hands on drug used in executions

April 20, 2011|By TIM ROWLAND |
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

Which was almost the case this week, when I was alerted to a story in The New York Times. It was a sad story, a story of drug addiction. It was about junkies who can’t get their fix and resort to all kinds of backroom and illegal activities just to be able to shoot up.

Must be a pretty addictive drug, I thought, when the story was related to me.

Well, yes and no.

The drug is called sodium thiopental, and strange as it might sound, it’s a drug you only use once. So it is not addictive to the user.

It is, however, apparently addictive to those who administer it.

If this drug sounds even remotely familiar to you, it’s probably because it is one of the three drugs used by states to execute prisoners. You’ve also probably heard how it is supposed to work: One drug kills the pain, one drug slows the heart, and the third drug makes you think you’re Ed Sullivan.

Unfortunately for death rows across the United States, the one domestic producer of sodium thiopental has stopped production due to “manufacturing problems.”

And under federal law, it’s all but impossible to import the drug. According to the Times, “Georgia prison officials were clearly growing anxious last summer as their supply of sodium thiopental neared expiration and a shipment from England lay stalled for weeks in Memphis. Customs agents had detained the package pending inspection by the Food and Drug Administration. By July 6, a corrections official sent a terse e-mail to a colleague asking, ‘Any word?’”

Yeah, man. You know how you get the sweats and start seeing roaches when you can’t kill somebody. You’re jonesin’ to lay a cat low, and your Man doesn’t show up with the goods. And there’s no equivalent of a sodium thiopental methadone clinic, where states withdrawing from killing inmates can at least cripple a few each week.

So Georgia got desperate. Instead of going through “channels,” it went directly to a source in Britain called, I swear, “Dream Pharma” that (again, I swear) is, according to the Times, “a wholesaler run out of the back room of a driving academy’s offices in London.”

Quite a combo, no? Nothing says “safe driver” like a couple handfuls of barbiturates.

When it learned of the potential connection, an excited Georgia corrections official gave the word to “make it happen.”

And once other states got wind Georgia had a stash, they came begging. You always hate to be the only one on the block who’s got the benzos, because you KNOW word is going to get out, and then all the riffraff will be crawling through your windows.

Arizona, for example, supplied the drug to California, where an official wrote back, “You guys in AZ are life savers; by (sic) you a beer next time I get that way.”

Nice note. I think the dudes on death row, however, might have chosen different words than “life savers.”

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at Tune in to the Rowland Rant at, on or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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