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Death penalty: Louisiana ‘blagged drug from hospital’

Hospital 'assumed it was for Department of Corrections patient'

The Louisiana Department of Corrections bought a death penalty drug from a local hospital without informing the hospital that it was intended for use in a lethal injection, it has emerged.

According to a report by The Lens, a non-profit news outlet based in New Orleans, the state’s Elayn Hunt Correctional Centre purchased 20 vials of the painkiller hydromorphone from Lake Charles Memorial Hospital a week before the convicted killer Christopher Sepulvado was due to be executed on 5 February.

“We assumed the drug was for one of their patients, so we sent it. We did not realise what the focus was,” said Ulysses Thibodeaux, who sits on the board of the private, non-profit hospital. “Had we known of the real use we never would have done it.”

State authorities have found it increasingly difficult to source the drugs required for lethal injections since European pharmaceutical companies and the EU began withholding the substances traditionally used in executions from export to America’s 32 death penalty states.

For example, existing stocks of pentobarbital have passed their sell-by dates since the drug’s Danish manufacturer, Lundbeck, halted its sale to US prison services in 2011. When Louisiana was unable to replenish its supply, the state approved an alternative death penalty drug cocktail, comprising hydromorphone and a sedative, midazolam.

In late January, corrections department officials announced they had the necessary amounts of hydromorphone to proceed with Sepulvado’s execution. But it only became clear where they had acquired it when the purchase was revealed as part of a lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection practices, in a document seen by The Lens.

Matt Felder, a hospital spokesman, told the local TV station KPLC, “Our pharmacist here at Memorial [was contacted by] a pharmacist at the Hunt Medical Centre, saying that they needed the drug, hydromorphone, for a medical patient…  At no time did Memorial believe or was led to believe that the drug would be used for an execution.”

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, said, “Louisiana is in such dire straits that, to obtain the drugs they want, they’re taking ethically questionable paths of deception and secrecy and hoping that no one will ask questions.”