The Shady World Of Execution Drug Trafficking

December 14, 2011

Once upon a time, Chris Harris was a broker for Kayem Pharma, a small India-based pharmaceutical company that sold sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that, in addition to its legitimate health care uses, has been used to kill over 1,000 prisoners in the U.S.  Late last year, he brokered a sale of sodium thiopental to the states of Nebraska and South Dakota, states that have collectively carried out exactly one execution this century.  Nebraska paid just over $2,000 for enough of the drug (500 grams) for 166 executions (there are 12 people on Nebraska’s death row), while pledging it would not be reselling the drug to other states.

Why so much?  That is not clear, but eventually the DEA ruled that it had all been imported illegally anyway and could not be used.  Kayem, meanwhile, expressed dismay that their drug would be used for executions, saying that it violated their “ethos of Hinduism”.   Angry emails between company headquarters and its U.S. agents, with epithets like “drug peddlers” and “piece of sh*t thief”, flew back and forth.  Chris Harris was fired for “indulging in activities detrimental to Company interest.”

But he wasn’t done.  He turned up as a broker for more sodium thiopental, this time with the Swiss-based drug company Naari.  He said he wanted samples (free samples) to bring to Zambia, where such medicines are sorely needed.  The company naively obliged.  Harris then turned around and sold these free samples (485 grams worth) to Nebraska, for over $5,000. (Note how Nebraska’s insistent need for the drug caused the price to more than double.)

Naari is outraged, demanding that its drugs be returned.  Nebraska officials, unwavering in their determination to kill some prisoners, do not care.  This, despite the fact that they are, in effect, retaining stolen property.

More and more of those most directly involved in executions are objecting to or opting out of participating in this unseemly practice:  doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, EMTs, prison wardens, and drug companies (Hospira, Novartis, Lundbeck, Kayem, and now Naari).  (Not to mention the entire European Union.)  As a result, efforts to keep the prisoner killing business open are veering into some seriously shady terriroty.  And for what?