Regardless of whether states use one or three drugs for an execution, all of the major lethal injection drugs are in short supply due to manufacturers’ efforts to prevent the use of their products for executions and European Union restrictions on the exportation of drugs that may be used to kill. As a result, some state executioners have pursued questionable means of obtaining the deadly chemicals from other states and foreign companies, including a pharmaceutical wholesaler operating out of the back of a London driving school. These backroom deals—which, astoundingly, have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—are now the subject of federal litigation that could impact the legitimacy of the American death penalty system. In March 2012, six death row inmates argued that the FDA had shirked its duty to regulate lethal substances and raised concerns about the “very real risk that unapproved thiopental will not actually render a condemned prisoner unconscious.” A federal district judge agreed and ordered the FDA to confiscate the imported thiopental, but the agency has appealed.


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