Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Buying Medicine From Outside The U.S. Is Risky Business" Especially For Death Row Inmates

Snake with big fangs squeezing a prescription bottle. Buying prescription drugs from outside the United States is risky business. Think it's safe buying medicine outside the United States? Think again. If you buy foreign medicine from an Internet site, from a storefront business that offers to order medicine for you, or during visits outside of the United States, you are taking a risk. This medicine may be fake, have the wrong ingredient, or have no medicine at all and could be dangerous to your health. Don’t Risk Your Health. Flyer with logos of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Food and Drug Administration,, 1-888-INFO-FDA.  Two logos posted for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security and the FDA, U.S. Department of Health.

On Monday, October 25, 2010 a federal judge in Arizona issued a temporary restraining order to delay an execution because of questions surrounding the origin of one of the drugs - sodium thiopental - that Arizona (and other states) administers during the execution.  The Supreme Court issued an order on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 vacating the lower court's order.  

Death penalty cases rarely (never?) raise customs issues, but this one might.  In its order, the Supreme Court noted: 
There was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect.
Hmmm.  Section 801 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act generally prohibits the importation of non-FDA approved prescription drugs.  Sodium thiopental is a "controlled substance" aka prescription drug.  The lower court found that the drug in question was "non-FDA approved."  

So the obvious questions are who imported the drug, how was it declared, and is there some general exception for prescription drugs imported for (by?) states for use in executions?  I'm not aware of any such exception but I suppose there could be one.  Seems to me that the public policy justifications (e.g. concerns about safety and efficacy) for prohibiting the importation of non-FDA approved drugs should apply whether the drugs are taken voluntarily by senior citizens or administered (involuntarily) to death row inmates. 

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