Executing a human being clearly doesn't count as a "medical or scientific" use — no doctor is involved in administering the lethal drugs. Of course, there might be an opinion from the state attorney general concluding that killing a condemned prisoner is an "other legitimate use" but the office won't produce one. When we asked if obtaining the drug from a foreign supplier was legal, Christine Gasparac, a spokesperson for Attorney General Jerry Brown, stated in an e-mail that "You'll have to contact the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a response to your questions" and that "this office was not involved in the procurement of the drug."
CDCR hasn't presented any import license, purchase order, chain of custody documents, or anything else to show where the deadly stuff originated. We've filed a written request under the California Public Records Act for the data, but have not received a reply.
That bothers state Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF), who chairs the Public Safety Committee. "I am concerned that a state agency, using taxpayer money, is buying something and refusing to disclose where the money went," he told us.
Procuring sodium thiopental may become even harder in the future — it has only limited use in medicine.
Dr. Philip Lumb, chair of department of anesthesiology at the University of Southern California medical school, said that over the past few years the drug Propofol has replaced sodium thiopental in the majority of surgical cases. (Propofol is the same drug Michael Jackson overdosed on.)
"It is still available — we still have it," Lumb said. "It is used sometimes for brain procedures."
But if Hospira isn't making much and doesn't want to sell it to prisons for executions, and European companies can get in trouble for exporting it, California may find that a drug it relies on to kill people isn't available from any legitimate source. Which means the custodians of our prison system could, in effect, be buying lethal drugs on the black market.
They put other people in prison for that.