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California says it shouldn't have to return foreign-bought execution drug to FDA

Lethal Injection Chamber


California's lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is arguing that it doesn't have to give up its stock of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental to the federal government. In a letter dated May 1, 2012, CDCR General Counsel Benjamin Rice told Domenic Veneziano, director of the FDA's Division of Import Operations and Policy, that "CDCR must decline to return the thiopental in its possession at this time."

The letter was in response to the FDA's order in April that states that imported the execution drug from abroad stop using them and return them to the FDA. 

The drug, sodium thiopental, is an anesthetic used by many states as an execution drug. In California, the drug is the first of three used — the condemned inmate is first put to sleep using thiopental, then given a paralyzing drug, followed by a third drug that stops his or her heart.