SQ lethal injection room

A US judge has blocked imports of an anaesthesia drug used during death sentences and ordered supplies to be confiscated after it was found the drug has not received US Food and Drug Administration approval.

A group of death row inmates successfully sued the FDA last year after they allowed shipments of sodium thiopental into the country improperly.

State officials in Tennessee and Kentucky subsequently turned over supplies of the sedative to the FDA before an investigation was launched into uncovering how the drug was imported.

Although the FDA challenged the lawsuit, citing that the agency was using its discretion to allow shipments into the country, US District Judge Richard Leon ruled in favour of the inmates and criticised the FDA for making an exception to its own rules of stopping the import of unapproved drugs.

"The FDA appears to be simply wrapping itself in the flag of law enforcement discretion to justify its authority and masquerade an otherwise seemingly callous indifference to the health consequences of those imminently facing the executioner’s needle," said Leon.

Leon ordered the FDA to notify all state correctional departments of a prohibition on the use of imported sodium thiopental, with all supplies to be returned to the agency.

The case comes amidst a separate case into sedatives used during the lethal injection process, with the sodium thiopental alternative pentobarbital subject to several legal challenges that claim the drug takes too long to sedate death row inmates prior to the lethal injection.

Image: The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison in California, US. Credit: CACorrections