ATLANTA --- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday seized Georgia's supply of a key lethal injection drug less than two months after the state executed a man who unsuccessfully argued it was bought from a "fly-by-night" supplier in England.
Agency spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell wouldn't elaborate on why the DEA wanted to inspect Georgia's supply of sodium thiopental, a sedative that is part of a three-drug cocktail used in executions that has been in short supply since the sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making it.
"We had questions about how the drug was imported to the U.S.," he said. "There were concerns."
No more execution dates in Georgia have been scheduled and it's unlikely any will be set before the issue is resolved. Georgia Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Lauren Kane said prosecutors couldn't ask a judge to set executions if corrections officials didn't have the necessary supplies to carry one out.
Georgia's stockpile of the drug has been a target of death row inmates and capital punishment critics because corrections officials released documents this year showing the state obtained the drug from Link Pharmaceuticals, a firm purchased five years ago by Archimedes Pharma Limited. Both are British firms.
The drug was used in January to execute Emmanuel Hammond, 45-year-old man convicted for the 1988 shotgun slaying of an Atlanta preschool teacher. His attorneys sought a delay to gather more information on how the state obtained the drug, claiming in court documents it came from a "fly-by-night supplier operating from the back of a driving school in England."
The U.S. Supreme Court, and lower courts, rejected Hammond's argument.
The state's stockpile came under additional scrutiny in February when John Bentivoglio, a former deputy attorney general, asked the Justice Department to investigate whether state corrections officials violated federal law by not registering with the DEA when it imported its supply of sodium thiopental.
"The United States has strict drug import rules for a reason: To ensure drugs used for legitimate purposes are not adulterated, counterfeit, or diverted into the illicit market," said Bentivoglio, who is representing death row inmate Andrew Grant DeYoung.
Joan Heath, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections, said state officials were not concerned with the quality of the drug and just wanted to make sure they were complying with the law.
"We contacted the DEA and asked them for a regulatory review, and that's what we're doing," she said. "We're going to make sure we're in regulatory compliance with the DEA over how we handle controlled substances."