ACLU Seeks Records Over Suspect Lethal Injection Drugs

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On Friday the ACLU of Nebraska filed an open records request to determine if Nebraska’s recent acquisition of drugs to be used in lethal injection was lawful. A 2013 Federal Circuit Court ruling determined that these drugs are subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight and importation rules and that states must obtain such drugs legally through licensed, inspected dealers.

Courts have found that drugs imported by states for use as anesthesia prior to execution are subject to the same FDA requirements applicable to all imported drugs: most important, the drugs must be reviewed for safety and effectiveness and must come from FDA-registered foreign drug providers.

“Nebraska’s past attempts to obtain lethal injection drugs have been legally suspect and full of problems including wasted taxpayer dollars and false promises. We are committed to holding state officials accountable," said Danielle Conrad, Executive Director of the Nebraska ACLU. “Nebraska has not carried out an execution in over 15 years. Nebraska voters know that alternatives to the death penalty-like life in prison with no parole-will protect public safety and save taxpayer resources. We are hopeful that a strong bipartisan effort in the legislature led by fiscal conservatives, faith leaders, and victims’ families will end the death penalty once and for all.”

Nebraska has previously obtained sodium thiopental. In 2009, then Attorney General John Bruning said that it would be about one year until the drugs could be used to carry out an execution. Additional drugs were acquired in 2013, prompting the ACLU of Nebraska to ask for records related to the drugs. Those records showed that Nebraska did not comply with federal law in obtaining the drugs. All of those drugs have since expired.

The current request asks for a variety of information related to the use of drugs involved in Nebraska’s lethal injection protocol, specifically requesting correspondence with the FDA and Harris Pharma. Harris Pharma has previously sold drugs to Nebraska that were unable to be used.

The state has until May 21 to respond to the request for records.