Judge slams FDA for importing lethal-injection drugs

A U.S. judge sided with death row inmates who sued the FDA for importing a drug used in lethal injections. The prisoners had claimed that the agency's decision to allow foreign versions of sodium thiopental into the U.S. violated its own drug-approval rules.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon took issue with the FDA's choice--and ordered the confiscation of supplies of the drug. The agency acted against its usual practice of keeping unapproved drugs out of the U.S., Leon said, in "seemingly callous indifference" to the condemned prisoners. "How utterly disappointing!" Leon wrote (as quoted by Reuters).

The judge's order is the latest development in an ongoing controversy about lethal-injection drugs. As U.S. stocks of the anesthetics have declined, prisons have moved to import alternatives from other countries. But foreign drugmakers have tried to bar law enforcement's use of their products, citing their own opposition to the death penalty. One drugmaker tried to transfer production of the drug from a troubled U.S. plant to another facility in Italy, but the government there balked.

Leon not only ordered the FDA to block future imports of sodium thiopental, but said the agency must notify states they cannot use any foreign-made stores of the drug they already have. Prisons will have to return their supplies to the FDA immediately, Leon said. The Justice Department didn't comment on the ruling, so it's unclear yet whether the FDA will appeal.

- read the Reuters news