The Associated Press got their hands on documents that show Arizona attempted to illegally import unapproved lethal injection drugs through Phoenix Airport in July. The shipment was stopped and seized at the airport by federal agents.
Arizona paid nearly $27,000 for sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that has been used to carry out executions but is no longer manufactured by FDA-approved companies, the documents said. When the drugs arrived via British Airways at the Phoenix International Airport in July, they were seized by federal officials and have not been released, according to the documents.
The AP is a party to a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections over transparency in executions, and the documents were obtained as part of that lawsuit. The documents do not indicate the country of origin, nor the source of the drugs.
The AP’s report says this tactic—seeking non-FDA-approved drug manufacturers overseas for lethal injection drugs—has been tried before. Nebraska—prior to abolishing the death penalty in May of this year—spent $54,400 on a shipment of lethal injection drugs from an Indian drug distributor. The FDA told Nebraska “it could not legally import the drug it needed” and shut down the transaction. Ohio and Texas have both recently asserted their right to import lethal injection drugs—notably, these efforts are distinct from Arizona’s effort for at least seeking legal authority.
Joseph Rudolph Wood’s execution in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon took nearly two hours after the lethal injection began. His lawyers, claiming that their client was gasping and snorting for an hour, filed an emergency appeal to have the execution stopped. Wood died before a court could act.
Arizona has said “it doesn’t plan on seeking death warrants for inmates until it resolves a lawsuit originally filed by Wood and other death row inmates seeking information about the drugs used in executions,” according to the Associated Press report.
Arizona’s Department of Corrections has appealed to the FDA to allow them to take possession of the drugs but refrain from using them until the FDA or a court approves their use. So far, the FDA has declined that request.