Six death row inmates have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from importing a drug used in executions that's no longer available in the United States.
Hospira, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic used as part of the lethal three-drug cocktail, announced last month that it would stop making the product, saying it never intended it to be used to kill people.
But the FDA continues to allow states to import "bulk amounts" of the drug for use in lethal injection without vetting it to ensure it meets regulatory standards, the lawsuit states.
"The imported thiopental in question has not been listed with FDA, was manufactured by foreign companies that have not registered with FDA, and was exported by a wholesaler located in the United Kingdom," claims the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
"FDA has not determined whether the thiopental being imported into the United States is safe and effective, whether the imported thiopental is adulterated, or whether the imported thiopental is counterfeit."
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of inmates in Arizona, California and Tennessee, seeks an injuction barring future imports of the drug and removal of supplies of the drug already in possession of state governments.
An FDA spokesman declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The shortage in the United States of sodium thiopental, which is also used as an anesthetic for brief surgical procedures, has forced states to look outside the country for a supply or come up with alternatives, and not without controversy.
In December, Oklahoma used an anesthetic commonly used to euthanize animals to execute John David Duty for killing a cellmate.