CDCR/FlickrLethal injection Room 3, San Quentin State Prison.
California’s corrections department appears to have received a key lethal injection drug via a London wholesaler working out of a driving school’s office.
The Arizona Department of Corrections bought sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma Ltd., according to a Sept. 28 invoice obtained by multiple British news outlets. Shortly thereafter, Arizona officials provided their California counterparts 12 grams of the drug.
Dream Pharma is “based in offices signposted as Elgone Driving Academy” in west London, the Guardian reported on Thursday. On its website, the company advertises itself as jack-of-all-trades pharmaceutical distributor, locating hard to find and discontinued medicines the world over.
“Confidentiality will remain paramount,” the firm’s website states.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation later purchased an additional 521 grams of sodium thiopental from a British vendor. The agency refuses to disclose the company’s name.
“We’re not commenting on your question right now,” said Terry Thornton, a CDCR spokeswoman, when asked if Dream Pharma sold the state the lethal injection drug.
Mehdi Alavi, Dream Pharma’s director and a licensed wholesaler, also declined to discuss the matter.
“I’d like to help, but I can’t make any comments,” Alavi told California Watch. “I’m sorry.”
Under court order, last month CDCR released more than 1,000 pages of heavily redacted internal e-mails that detail its sodium thiopental acquisitions. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Northern California chapter filed a lawsuit against the state agency to force the disclosure of the records.
At a hearing on Monday, Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard will rule on whether the corrections department can continue to withhold the supplier’s identity.
Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic and the first of a fatal three-drug cocktail, used to render condemned inmates unconscious before the following two paralyze breathing and induce cardiac arrest.
The drug is in extremely short supply in the United States, prompting some states to share their reserves, or to purchase the drug from overseas.
Corrections department e-mails show California intended to follow Arizona’s lead in purchasing the anesthetic.
On Sept. 28, Charles Flanagan, Arizona Department of Corrections deputy director, e-mailed John McAuliffe, a top CDCR official, with guidance:
As we discussed on the phone today, we have followed the lead of [name redacted] and purchased the drugs we need from a company in London. Frankly there was no possibility of getting the Thiopental Sodium/Sodium Pentothal from any source in the U.S., to include from any of the departments of corrections in other states that use the same 3-drug protocol as us.
The London vendor agreed. In a note to McAuliffe two days later, someone with the supplier wrote, “I think what Arizona had done was almost bullet proof.”
In November, Britain prohibited export of the anesthetic for use in executions. It is unclear if California’s purchase complied with British laws and regulations.
A more pressing concern is whether CDCR followed state procurement law.
The internal e-mails detail exchanges in which corrections officials discuss whether they can avoid a public bidding process and other purchasing rules.
“The procurement people flagged all those problems,” Natasha Minster, the ACLU of Northern California’s death penalty policy director, said. “What happened next?”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held the state’s sodium thiopental for weeks pending review, before ultimately deciding execution drugs fall outside of its jurisdiction. “Reviewing substances imported or used for the purpose of state-authorized lethal injection clearly falls outside of FDA’s explicit public health role,” the federal agency said in a written statement to the Wall Street Journal.
CDCR officials have said Archimedes Pharma, a British drug company, manufactured California’s sodium thiopental.
However, that may not be accurate, as the Guardian reports that the anesthetic is produced in Austria and then sold to Archimedes, which then distributes it again. The drug company contends it has no knowledge of Dream Pharma.