DEA seizes British execution drugs from US prison amid fears that Dream Pharma supplies are unsafe

March 16, 2011

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has seized the state of Georgia’s supply of lethal injection drug sodium thiopental amid increasing fears that the British drug has caused excruciating pain to prisoners.

Sodium thiopental is the first in the three-drug lethal injection procedure used to execute prisoners across the USA. The seizure is likely to halt all executions in Georgia and may cause delays elsewhere; it is anticipated that the DEA will seize batches of imported sodium thiopental from other states that bought their supplies either from Georgia or directly from British wholesaler Dream Pharma.

A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental has forced at least six states — including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia and South Carolina – to import the drug from Dream Pharma, run by businessman Matt Alavi out of the back of a driving academy in West London. Aware that the drugs were urgently needed for executions, Mr Alavi seized the opportunity to hike the price up by as much as 3,500%, hastily shipping the drugs by Fed Ex under unregulated conditions to prisons across the USA.

To date, Dream Pharma sodium thiopental has been used as an anaesthetic in the executions of Jeffrey Landrigan, Emanuel Hammond and Brandon Rhode. All three prisoners responded oddly to the drug, and Brandon Rhode’s eyes remained open as he died: a clear indication that the anaesthetic did not work properly. If the drug did indeed fail then the three men died in excruciating pain.

Former deputy attorney general John Bentivoglio had previously asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation into whether state corrections officials violated federal law by not registering with the DEA when it imported its supply of sodium thiopental.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“At last someone is paying attention to the shenanigans that have been going on with the fly-by-night company exporting large quantities of execution drugs from Britain. It’s high time that the British drug regulators did some meaningful oversight as well.”

For more information please contact Reprieve’s Press Office

Notes for Editors:

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 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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; Chair: Lord Ken Macdonald QC; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner