A federal judge’s decision to block the importation of a drug used in some executions in Arizona is expected to have little or no immediate impact on the state.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Tuesday sided with lawyers for death-row inmates in Arizona, California and Tennessee who wanted to keep imported sodium thiopental from being used in executions because it was made overseas and was unapproved by the FDA.
Leon also ordered the FDA to immediately notify any state correctional departments with foreign-made sodium thiopental that its use is prohibited by law, and that the drug must be returned to the FDA.
Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said Tuesday that the department returned its remaining supply of the foreign-made drug to the FDA on Feb. 2.
The department used the drug pentobarbital in its most recent executions on Feb. 29 and March 8.
Arizona Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani said the department has enough of that drug for the next four or five executions in the state.
Once Arizona runs out of its supply of pentobarbital, it’s unclear what will happen.
In July, the only U.S.-licensed manufacturer of pentobarbital announced it would put the drug off-limits for executions. And a company that bought the pentobarbital line in December is required to also keep it from use by prisons for executions.
Cattani said the state likely will simply find another drug.
In using pentobarbital this year, Arizona joined Ohio, Texas and several other states that made the switch to the drug after the only U.S. manufacturer of the execution drug sodium thiopental said it would discontinue production.
Dale Baich, an attorney who defends many inmates on Arizona’s death row and has argued against the state’s use of foreign-made sodium thiopental, said time will tell if Tuesday’s ruling will have any significant impact on the state. If nothing else, he said it sends a message.
“The ruling is clear that states that have imported non-FDA-approved drugs are now on notice that these drugs are illegal,” he said.
The state has scheduled two more executions this year, and could schedule up to three more after that for inmates whose appeals have just about run their course.
Thomas Arnold Kemp, 63, is set to be executed April 26 for killing a Tucson college student after robbing him. Samuel Villegas Lopez, 49, is scheduled to be executed May 16 for the rape and murder of a Phoenix woman.