A frantic scramble to execute inmate
By SAM STANTON January 8, 2011 2:00AM
The execution of Albert Greenwood Brown never took place at San Quentin’s death chamber because California could not obtain the missing ingredient for the lethal injection. | AP File
Updated: January 8, 2011 5:01PM
Desperately seeking a drug that would allow them to execute a Death Row inmate last fall, California prison officials scoured the nation for a dose of it, calling dozens of hospitals, local surgery centers, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other states for help, newly released documents show.
California and other states have been scrambling ever since the only U.S. maker of the drug, north suburban Lake Forest-based Hospira Inc., made its last batch in 2009.
Hospira said it will not make any more sodium thiopental before early this year, citing trouble acquiring the active pharmaceutical ingredient.
At one point, California considered buying a batch from a supplier in Pakistan, records show.
Ultimately, California turned to Arizona as part of what it described as a “secret and important mission” to pick up the drug from a prison south of Phoenix, then drive it to San Quentin.
The planned execution of Albert Greenwood Brown, which set off the search, never took place. California eventually bought a British supply of the drug for $36,415, but details of that transaction remain secret.
The ACLU has contended the state cannot use a foreign-made supply of the drug without the approval of the federal Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA issued a statement Wednesday saying the agency “does not review or approve products for the purpose of lethal injects.”
Hospira has said it opposes use of the drug for executions and that the drug is designed as a surgical anesthetic.
The ACLU prevailed in court to force the release of public records describing the search for the drug.
“We have contacted 80-90 hospitals over the past few days and none of them have a drop of Pentothal,” said one California e-mail dated Sept. 16, two weeks before Brown’s scheduled execution. That e-mail, like many in the documents released, had the identities of the sender and recipients redacted.
“I called approximately 100 hospitals and local general surgery centers,” John McAuliffe, a contract worker for the corrections department, wrote to Undersecretary Scott Kernan on Sept. 29, the day before Brown was scheduled to die.
“Still have not heard from AZ,” Kernan then wrote to department Secretary Matt Cate. “Trying not to press to [sic] hard.” Cate replied with an e-mail asking if military hospitals had been called and noting that he had called an official with Veterans Affairs.
Finally, California received guidance from Arizona on how to obtain the drug from a London supplier. With officials in most states unable or unwilling to share their doses of sodium thiopental, officials believed a foreign supplier was their only viable avenue.
Scripps Howard News Service