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Judge blocks import of execution drug

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the importation of a drug used in executions on grounds the Food and Drug Administration ignored the law in allowing it into this country.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sided with lawyers for death row inmates in Tennessee, Arizona and California who want to keep out sodium thiopental, because it is an unapproved drug manufactured overseas. The Obama administration argued it had discretion to allow unapproved drugs into the U.S.

But Leon said the FDA’s actions were “contrary to law, arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” He said that plain language of the law says that an article that appears to be misbranded or unapproved “shall be refused admission.”

Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic used to put inmates to sleep before other lethal drugs are administered. The drug’s U.S. manufacturer announced last year that it would no longer produce it, which forced corrections officials to delay many executions. Many of the nation’s 34 death penalty states switched to an alternative drug, pentobarbital — a point Leon stressed.

In addition to blocking the FDA from allowing the drug into the country, Leon also ordered the FDA to immediately notify any state correctional departments with foreign-manufactured thiopental that its use is prohibited by law, and that the drug must be returned to the FDA.

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