In a June letter, the FDA wrote to Ohio, warning the state that importing the drugs would be illegal.
“Please note that there is no FDA approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States,” wrote Domenic Veneziano, the director of FDA’s import operation.
The letter, which was sent to the head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. A department spokesperson did not respond when asked if the state still intends to import the drug.
In similar letters to Nebraska and its Indian drug supplier, the FDA cited “media reports” as the source of its information that the state was attempting to import execution drugs. However, the letter to Ohio cited only “information received by the agency.” The FDA declined to specify how officials were tipped off.
The prison Ohio carries out executions in registered for a DEA license to import the drug last year for a “law enforcement purpose,” but until now it was unknown if the state actually intended to use the license.
Ohio, like many other death penalty states, shrouds its execution drug suppliers in secrecy. States argue the secrecy protects their suppliers from intimidation and embarrassment, while death row inmates and open government advocates argue it removes an important check on state power.
At this point, the identity of Ohio’s intended supplier is unknown. Nebraska paid more than $50,000 for hundreds of executions’ worth of sodium thiopental from an Indian dealer named Chris Harris. According to emails from Harris and the DEA, Harris sold to at least one other state as well.
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