By Mike Ward Eds: For immediate release. c.2012 Cox Newspapers
AUSTIN, Texas (Cox Newspapers) — Turned down in their request for secrecy by state Attorney General Greg Abbott for the second time in as many months, Texas prison officials have revealed that their large stockpile of lethal injection drugs — probably the largest in the country — came from a South Carolina pharmaceutical supplier.
In releasing invoices and other records about its supply chain, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shed new light on how it obtained the stockpile of a key drug used in executions last year, at a time when other states were unable to purchase any and some were being forced to switch to other drugs.
The information confirmed that Texas purchased its lethal drugs in spring 2011 through a U.S.-based supplier, not through a shadowy overseas network that several other states had used last year -- actions that drew federal agents to seize illegally imported drugs.
Texas appeared to get a head start on other states by buying the drugs when supplies were still available. By the summer of 2011, the domestic supplies had mostly dried up -- and the other states were left hunting for pentobarbital in places such as England and Pakistan.
Last month, the Texas agency, which operates the busiest death chamber in the United States, confirmed that it had enough lethal drugs on hand to carry out as many as 23 executions -- and that it does not prepare backup doses of the three drugs, as officials previously had said state policy requires.
The Austin American-Statesman had requested the information in March under the Texas Public Information Act, after disclosing that the state appeared to have purchased more than $50,000 worth of lethal drugs in just a few months.
Invoices made public by the agency Wednesday show that more than $51,000 worth of the powerful sedative Nembutal, a brand name for pentobarbital, was purchased in March and April 2011 through Physician Sales and Service in Houston.
Other forms disclosed Wednesday show it was shipped from company offices in West Columbia, S.C.
Calls to the company in both locations were not returned. Company officials previously had not commented about the sales.
The newly disclosed documents reveal that in one shipment, three of 39 vials of Nembutal were broken in transit. The state received a credit for the breakage, according to the records.
Prison officials Wednesday said they could not discuss the records in further detail.
Like other states, Texas uses Nembutal with two other drugs to carry out executions. Nembutal is the most difficult to obtain, and its European manufacturer, Lundbeck, has barred the use of its product in executions in the United States.
In arguing that disclosure of the details of its supply chain could limit Texas’ ability to buy the necessary drugs in the future, prison officials had refused to release the records. They said the disclosure would allow death penalty opponents to harass suppliers as part of an international campaign to block executions, and would interfere with Texas carrying out the ultimate penalty.
Abbott disagreed, ruling June 6 that the invoices and other purchasing records had to be made public. A month earlier, Abbott came to the same conclusion in ordering the agency to disclose how much lethal drugs it had on hand.
At the time, prison officials said they had 46 2.5-gram vials of Nembutal and similar amounts of the other two drugs on hand.
In his four-page decision, the attorney general rejected claims by prison officials that disclosure of the information could endanger the safety of prison employees and jeopardize Texas’ continued ability to obtain the drugs.
Jason Clark, a prison system spokesman, said that he could not comment on any discussions prison officials may have had with the suppliers about the release of the information.
Mike Ward writes for the Austin American-Statesman. Email: mward(at)statesman.com.
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