Expert says British execution drugs exported by Dream Pharma do not work properly; prisoners die excruciating deaths in Georgia

January 26, 2011

Last night, at 11.39 EST (6.39am GMT today), Emanuel Hammond was executed in Georgia using drugs sold by the Acton-based pharmaceutical company Dream Pharma

The execution was delayed for four and a half hours by the US Supreme Court to consider whether to order it permanently halted, in light of new evidence concerning Georgia’s hitherto-undisclosed execution of Brandon Rhode on September 27, 2010. 

The leading expert on lethal injection as an execution method, Dr Mark Heath, filed a sworn declaration stating that in his opinion the sodium thiopental sold by Dream Pharma to the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) may have “lacked efficacy”. Sodium thiopental is the anaesthetic used to render the prisoner unconscious, prior to a second drug (pancuronium bromide) paralyzing the prisoner, before the third (potassium chloride) delivers the final, fatal poison. The pancuronium bromide is administered for the benefit of the witnesses, not the prisoner, as it prevents the witnesses from seeing whether the prisoner is in pain.

In the opinion of Dr Mark Heath, this would have resulted in excruciating pain: “If the thiopental was inadequately effective Mr Rhode’s death would certainly have been agonizing,” he declared. “There is no dispute that the asphyxiation caused by pancuronium and the caustic burning sensation caused by potassium would be agonizing in the absence of adequate anesthesia.” 

No witness to Mr Rhode’s execution disputes that his eyes were open throughout the process. This indicates, according to the experts, that the anaesthetic did not work properly. There has been no assessment yet of the execution of Emanuel Hammond, but it is feared that if the British drugs were not efficacious four months ago, it is unlikely that they were last night. 

Brandon Rhode’s execution was originally stayed on September 21, when he had to be rushed to hospital after attempting suicide. He had mental disabilities, and his “limited coping skills” were pushed to a breaking point by fear of the painful death that awaited him. Like Emanuel Hammond last night, on September 27, Rhode then saw his execution stayed by the Supreme Court at the last minute, but this only prolonged the agony for three hours and 16 minutes before the stay was lifted and he was executed. Unfortunately it seems that his worst fears were realized, if the Dream Pharma anaesthetic did not work. 

“He [was] subjected to the surreal and incomprehensible: Heroic measures taken to stabilize his life by the prison staff that would then execute him,” Rhodes US lawyer, Brian Kammer, said in a court filing in the case.

Reprieve’s Director, Clive Stafford Smith, provided pro bono representation to Emanuel Hammond many years ago, in his first challenge to his sentence of death.

Dream Pharma has refused all cooperation with Reprieve’s effort to mitigate the damage caused by these sales. Reprieve condemns the irresponsible attitude taken by most companies and calls upon them voluntarily to establish a Hippocratic code for pharmaceutical companies asserting that their drugs should be used only for the benefit of patients, not for executions.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said: 

“It is shocking that Britain has allowed a fly-by-night company in the back of a driving academy to export these drugs. Apparently they were not stored, exported or used in a proper way, so that the prisoners are dying excruciating deaths. The British government must initiate an immediate inquiry into how this can happen.

“I knew Emanuel Hammond, and surely even those who wished him dead would not advocate that society inflict needless pain and suffering on him, on top of the 23 years he spent on death row.”

For more information please contact Kat O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office: / 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or Clive Stafford Smith: / 07940-347125.

Other relevant contacts:

Matt Alavi, Managing Director, Dream Pharma Ltd, 176 Horn Lane, London W3 6PJ Tel: 0208-992-7000; Fax: 0208-992-7001; Email:

Vince Cable, Business Secretary, tel: (UK) 020 7215 5000 or 020 7215 6740

Notes for Editors:


The US has recently run short of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, the drugs used in the execution protocol. On Monday 25th October, Jeffery Landrigan was executed in Arizona using drugs supplied by a British company – despite a plea for clemency from the judge who sentenced him to death. The Arizona consignment was sufficient for four executions, so the British company will contribute to three more deaths there.

Soon afterwards, the American lawyers for Edmund Zagorski contacted Reprieve with a plea for help: Tennessee was seeking to purchase the drugs to kill Mr Zagorski, apparently from the same British company. On Thursday 28th October, Reprieve and Leigh Day contacted the Government and asked for emergency measures to be taken to avoid British complicity in Mr Zagorski’s execution. On Monday, November 1st, Mr. Cable responded that the British government would take no such step, because if the US did not get the drug from the UK it would just go elsewhere. Mr. Cable also said he was unwilling to interfere unnecessarily in US-UK trade. On behalf of the FCO, Jeremy Browne took the same line.

On Tuesday 2nd November, lawyers with Leigh Day & Co. filed a judicial review application of the Government’s refusal to lift a hand to prevent British complicity in a series of American executions. The British government finally announced an export restriction on Monday 29th November.

On December 6th the California authorities stated that they had imported the drugs from Archimedes Pharma and that the drugs are currently with the FDA in Washington DC:

State corrections officials today revealed how they obtained a scarce drug used in lethal injection executions, saying they received one small batch from Arizona officials and ordered another, larger batch from a British manufacturer.California corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the first batch of 12 grams of sodium thiopental came from Arizona on Sept. 30 and that California was not charged for it.The second batch of 521 grams was ordered from Archimedes Pharma, a British company, and corrections officials paid $36,415 for it, she said. The shipment was approved by U.S. Customs officials and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Thornton said, and is now on hold on the East coast awaiting release by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.See Sam Stanton, California got execution drugs from Arizona, British sources, Sacramento Bee (Dec. 6, 2010), at (accessed Dec. 7, 2010).

While the list cost of the drugs imported by California should be no more than $1,000, California paid $36,415 for its supply – a blood money mark up of 3,500%.

Sodium thiopental is supposed to anaesthetise the victim before pancuronium bromide is used to paralyse the victim and finally potassium chloride is used to induce a heart attack. These are all bona fide medicines. However, they are used because they are normally cheap – being no longer subject to patent. This is also one reason that it has not been economical for US pharmaceutical firms to continue to produce the drugs and keep up a supply for the executing states.

The FDA took the position that the importation of Sodium Thiopental (and apparently the other drugs as well) was illegal under their regulations: On October 22, FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess told The Arizona Republic that there is no FDA-approved source for the importation of Sodium Thiopental. Burgess said that the FDA has control over its manufacture and distribution in the U.S. ” FDA is not aware of any firm currently able to supply thiopental to the U.S.,” she said. “A company would need to submit an application to FDA in order to be considered for approval including approval for overseas manufacturers of a drug for U.S. markets.” See Arizona Republic (October 22, 2010) . However, on January 4th, 2011, the FDA announced that they were not going to enforce their own regulations, but were going to allow the drugs into the US for the purpose of executions. Indeed, they agreed to Arizona’s request that the importation of the drugs be expedited because they were going to be used for execution purposes.

On December 16th, Reprieve brought to Vince Cable’s attention that Arizona had already sourced the two other execution drugs (Pancuronium Bromide and Potassium Chloride) from the UK, and was advising California on how to do the same. Reprieve asked for a ban on the export of these two drugs as well by December 20th. Cable’s office did not acknowledge receiving and reading this letter until December 29th. Indeed, Cable’s office told the BBC on December 27th that no such request had been made – notwithstanding the fact that 

Reprieve had emailed, faxed, posted and hand-delivered the letter on December 16th to ensure urgent receipt. Dream Pharma Ltd, of 176 Horn Lane, London W3 6PJ, is a pharmaceutical company run by Matt Alavi. It operates out of the back of a driving instructor’s office, Elgone Driving Academy. Alavi sold 150 vials of sodium thiopental, 180 vials of potassium chloride, and 450 vials of pancuronium bromide to the Arizona State Prison on September 28th, 2010. This was sufficient to execute at least ten prisoners, and one has already died as a result.

Dream Pharma has also sold drugs to Georgia (where two prisoners have now been killed with it) and California (which bought enough to kill 85 prisoners). It is feared that Dream Pharma sold drugs to other states as well. However, Mr. Alavi refuses to cooperate with efforts to remedy the problem.

Only by showing precisely how these drugs were made, how they are different from the US-made equivalent, how they were stored, and how they were imported, can Reprieve help the American lawyers to prevent the execution of many prisoners. Thus, if lives are to be saved, it is vital that the pharmaceutical companies cooperate to repair the damage that has been done.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Email:

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner