Death Penalty

Texas Sought Banned Death Penalty Drugs From Overseas Party Dealers

In the future, President Trump's lifelong fanaticism for capital punishment could make such shady deals unnecessary.


Lethal injection
Brian Baer/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The state of Texas—hell bent on procuring banned drugs to be used in lethal injection executions—nearly completed a deal with five party drug dealers in India before the men were arrested.

According to an absolutely bonkers report in Buzzfeed, Indian court documents reveal Provizer Pharma—the company equally owned by five Indian men in their twentires—was selling "psychotropic drugs and opioids illegally to people in the US and Europe," but also had a deal in principle with Texas' Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to sell the agency sodium thiopental, a drug used in lethal injections.

The TDCJ wrote in a statement, "The agency has not engaged in any transaction with this company," which would technically be true, because the five men from Provinzer Pharma were arrested by India's Narcotics Control Bureau while picking up returned packages loaded with illegal drugs at a FedEx store in Surat before Provinzer's sale of sodium thiopental to the state of Texas could be completed.

But per a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) report obtained by Buzzfeed, the TDCJ tipped off the DEA of the planned purchase, and even named Provinzer Pharma as the vendor.

Buzzfeed adds, "It's unclear how the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found this small company in India that made the rounds on Internet message boards for teens and 20-somethings looking to buy drugs without a prescription," but an American named Chris Harris ended up replacing Provinzer Pharma as Texas' drug supplier. Harris has made sales of death penalty drugs to four states—earning over $100,000—but each time the drugs have been detained by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As we've reported at Reason, death penalty states have had a hell of a time in recent years trying to get their hands on drugs used in executions, partially due to a European Union (EU) ban on the sale of such drugs to state governments that allow capital punishment, but also due to public backlash over the many executions which were botched because of drugs of questionable provenance and quality.

The final status of the FDA-impounded shipments of sodium thiopental from India is still unsettled. The U.S.'s lone manufacturer of the drug stopped producing it because of its use in executions, and for a time, the Obama administration's FDA allowed states to import the drug, but the agency was eventually ordered by a federal court that it had "a mandatory obligation" to keep the "the misbranded and unapproved drug, thiopental" out of the U.S.

That ruling came down in 2012, and has served as the FDA's go-to reasoning for refusing to release the detained shipments of drugs paid for by certain states' dollars.

Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice filed suit against the FDA, demanding the release of the drugs. Ars Technica reports Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the FDA of "gross incompetence or willful obstruction" in refusing to make a final decision on the fate of the impounded drugs. Paxton's main argument is that the state has a "responsibility to carry out its law enforcement duties"—which includes executions—and thus should be granted a "law enforcement exemption" and be permitted to import sodium thiopental.

President Donald Trump might be the most enthusiastic proponent of capital punishment ever to inhabit the White House. It's one of the few policy positions on which he has never wavered, having taken a full-page ad in four major New York newspapers back in 1989 demanding "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY", as well as writing in his 1997 book Trump: The Art of the Comeback, "I believe in an eye for an eye." In 2010, Trump said the punishment for WikiLeaks' publishing of classified documents provided by Chelsea Manning should be "the death penalty or something."

When Trump gets around to appointing a new FDA commissioner, he could direct the agency to stand down on its opposition to importing the drugs, which could theoretically help states like Texas make the case that the current court-imposed injunction should be done away with in deference to the FDA's wishes.

I reported on the numerous legal challenges to death penalty states—and their unwillingness to reveal the sources of their execution drugs—in the Reason TV documentary "The Battle for Death Penalty Transparency," which you can watch below.

NEXT: Prediction: Donald Trump Will Take Full Credit for Decrease in Illegal Immigrants That Started in 2007

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  1. Oh my God Reason would you stop talking about the things Trump does and says in relation to whatever topic you’re writing about? The dude is just president! Get over it!

    1. There’s no limit to the depths the cosmotarian media will stoop to.

    2. I’m not sure which is worse, the whining over Trump, the whining over Trump coverage, or the whining over the whining about Trump coverage.

      1. Oh god, now I’m whining about the whining over the whining about the Trump coverage. I have become a monster fighting monsters.

        1. Abyss, John Titor.

          John Titor, meet Abyss.

        2. +1 abyss

      2. ESPECIALLY the whining over Trump! But especially the whining over the coverage of Trump.



  2. Yeah we should be talking about this bullshit instead.

    1. Totality of circs, even prosecutors can get in on that game.

    2. “Who collects grenades?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken argued in court, where fresh details emerged Thursday about the latest target ensnared in an FBI counterterrorism investigation in Detroit.

      A shit ton of veterans?

      Also, first white survivalist who converted to Islam?

      It’s a poorly written article. On one hand they claim his weapons purchases were legal and above board. On the other, he’s charged with making illegal purchases. It’s absolutely horrendous that a prosecutor is allowed to speculate freely about some planned attack of some unspecific nature that they have no evidence of.

      1. Also, first white survivalist who converted to Islam?

        So long as he’s free to gambol. But, for some reason, he keeps asking Mises and Marx for permission.

        1. Weird, Reasonable just blocked you by filtering the word Gambol, Heck I Gambol all the time

    3. Final thought – they had no basis for an investigation in the first place. When you send a federal agent to entice some guy to do something illegal when you have no evidence he’s done anything illegal, you are just phishing.

    4. The fucked up thing is he broke zero laws, his “grenade launcher” is actually a perfectly legal flare launcher and just stating that it would be cool to convert flares to grenades isn’t illegal. Nor is admiring claymores.

      “Who collects grenades?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken argued in court, where fresh details emerged Thursday about the latest target ensnared in an FBI counterterrorism investigation in Detroit.
      According to courtroom testimony and court documents, Gregerson was under investigation for 16 months by an FBI counter-terrorism squad. The FBI used tracking devices, followed him to sporting goods stores and tracked his purchases, hoping to figure out why he had explosives and guns in his house and whether or not he was planning an actual attack.

      The FBI probe has focused largely on conversations that Gregerson had with an undercover FBI agent and purchases he made at sporting goods stores across metro Detroit. Records show that he had stockpiled weapons, explosives, tactical gear and training materials at his house, including a loaded AK-47, a machete, a grenade launcher, hundreds of rounds of AK-47 ammunition, two balaclava ski masks that covered everything but the eyes, a Kalashnikov training video, and road spikes that he bought on eBay, court records show.

      “Those kinds of items are not consistent with a hobbyist,” argued Corken, noting Gregerson also never had a hunting license.

      1. “HUGE wine lover, right here. Also a heroine lover, in case anyone wants to schedule a poppy tour. HUGE heroine fan. Don’t use it, just like being around it. Study it. Appreciate it. Use it sometimes.”

          1. Who doesn’t love to win, really?

      2. The only thing on that list that might, might, be illegal is the explosives.

        And, I suspect the cops are lying their faces off when they say he has an AK-47. I’m sick to death of AK-47 lookalikes that lack the critical functionality of BEING FULL AUTO called AK-47s. And of course they are lying about the grenade launcher (flare launcher =/= grenade launcher).

        Honestly, for a hobbyist, that list sounds a little light.

        1. HE HAD A HATCHET, MAN!!! AND A MACHETE!!!!!!

          1. The real damning evidence are the two black ski masks – obviously terrorist paraphernalia. Why would anyone need a ski mask? Why was he stock piling them?
            Oh and owning weapons and not having a hunting license, I can’t even believe they said that. That should be grounds for being disbarred.

  3. Reason was for the DEA before they were against it.

    No, wait, that’s not it…


    Is this the libertarian moment I was promised?

    1. And what the Hell should the FDA have to say about a chemical used for the purpose of inflicting death???

      Trump was supposed to cause the left to question the wisdom of vesting so much power in a central authority, yet it appears all he has done is drive the ‘libertarians’ at Reason further into the arms of the Nanny State.

      1. True. A literal reading of the definitions in the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act would turn a lot of items that obviously aren’t into drugs, medical devices, or cosmetics. Sure, intending to kill someone is literally intending to affect the structure or fx of hir body, but this is more in the nature of a chemical weapon (which would be a munition, also legally restricted), a pesticide (taking the human to be killed to be a pest), or something entirely other than a drug as usually understood statutorily. They don’t consider bullets to be medical devices or pesticides.

    2. Keep going, dude. If you throw out enough retarded non sequiturs, you’re bound to hit on one that’s actually relevant to the article on which you’re commenting.

      1. I think it’s forgivable if some take Reason’s position here as cheerleading for the federal regulatory state when it accomplishes something they deem worthwhile. Like getting rid of capital punishment.

        1. More like cheering for the feds over state sovereignty, but given the issue I’m not really getting my hackles up over it.

        2. They don’t even have to be “cheerleading.”

          Acquiescence is bad enough. You cannot do right by first tolerating or committing a wrong.

      2. Sorry you cannot see the rank hypocrisy. Or maybe you are just being pragmatic. Either way, it’s not exactly libertarian principles that are being advanced.

        1. Thomas, after a short while, you will learn that the ironically named “Hugh Akston” is in reality closer to the personality of an Ayn Rand villain than an Ayn Rand hero. I wouldn’t pay him much heed.

          1. Thanks Draco, I don’t mind engaging Hugh, at least to the extent possible. He’s hardly in PB territory.

          2. I actually consider both Hugh Akstons rather well-defined by about 10 seconds worth of dialogue.

  4. So is thiopental illegal, or is it just that the Indian company deals in other banned drugs? And since when does the Reason staff think drug bans are things to be respected?

    1. The only US manufacturer stopped under pressure from the Feds, and many countries ban export to the US. Any imported would not be an “approved drug product.”

      Why that matters to execution, which is not a medical procedure, is beyond me.

      1. But the rub is, even if it’s not a drug (because its intended use is not of a type contemplated by Congress to fit that category), thiopental is still a controlled substance (based on its chemical identity, irrespective of purpose).

    2. There’s probably something to be said for government evading its own bans on banned drugs while prosecuting others for doing the same thing.

    3. So is thiopental illegal, or is it just that the Indian company deals in other banned drugs? And since when does the Reason staff think drug bans are things to be respected?

      Fuck you, that’s why! Next question.

  5. The moral problems of capital punishment aside, it once again seems apparent to me that nitrogen asphyxiation would be humane way of killing people instead of lethal injection. Why won’t states try that for a change?

    1. or, had I refreshed…

    2. I would think nitrous oxide asphyxiation would be a fairly pleasant way to die. And cheap. This doesn’t need to be rocket science.

      OTOH, if we think someone committed a grievous enough crime to deserve the death penalty, isn’t being finicky about their comfort a little superfluous?

      1. You might think, but if I’ve heard correctly the first drug that goes in for a lethal injection is a pain killer.

        1. Things vary, but the first drug is usually a benzodiazepine sedative, like midazolam (Versed).

          Why they don’t simply follow up with a paralytic agent (like succinylcholine) is beyond me.

          1. Why don’t they use all those “evidence” stockpiles and give them a heroin or cocaine overdose?

          2. Versed, huh? So they won’t remember being killed?

      2. The simpler the execution method the less chance there is that the government fucks up and causes an unnecessarily agonizing death.

        In theory execution by hanging, firing squad and electrocution is painless but a screw up can cause a person to suffer. Capital punishment is meant to be justice, not vengeance. Making the person suffer needlessly diminishes the heinousness of the crime and undermines the moral authority of the execution.

        1. Making the person suffer needlessly diminishes the heinousness of the crime and undermines the moral authority of the execution.

          Well, I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense. I’m against the death penalty, anyway, primarily because I don’t trust the government to not convict innocent people.

          I stand by my nitrous oxide suggestion, though.

          1. I’m against the death penalty, anyway, primarily because I don’t trust the government to not convict innocent people

            Same here. There are, of course, certain cases where I wish this wasn’t true but what can you do? Better to let the perpetrators of truly horrific crimes rot in a cell than risk innocent people dying.

        2. Nail. Head. In the ‘old’ days death was a by product of inflicting punishment (death by 1,000 cuts, the boats, etc). Now deprivation of life is the punishment. It should be quick and painless.

        3. Capital punishment is meant to be justice, not vengeance. Making the person suffer needlessly diminishes the heinousness of the crime and undermines the moral authority of the execution.

          Additionally, justice and vengeance aside there are pragmatic and rule of law elements as well. Inflicting pain in a protracted manner before death more generally conforms to cruel and unusual punishment than a quick painless death does. Wishing them out of existence would be preferred, but we are as yet unable to perform that feat.

        4. Guillotine’s pretty foolproof, isn’t it?

    3. What’s wrong with carbon monoxide?

      1. it’s too cheap for the gov?

      2. Nine out of ten executioners recommend Zyklon-B? over carbon monoxide.

        … Too far?

        1. You know who else…wait…

    4. We have an entire medical specialization dedicated to making sure people don’t die from drug usage. Any anesthesiologist could perform the procedure humanely, just tell them not to try so hard.

  6. As they say here in TX, yer honor, he needed killin’.

  7. why can’t they use an inert gas bag? you can go to the grocery store and pick up helium.

    1. why can’t they use an inert gas bag?

      Something something somebody’s mom something euphemism.

    2. why can’t they use an inert gas bag?

      It’s currently in the White House.


        1. what’s he taste like?

  8. Sounds like they want a new drug.

    1. +1 Huey Lewis

      1. Naw. +1000 Weird Al. What was I thinking.

  9. If you’re going to have capital punishment, make it hanging. Next issue please.

    1. What about 185+ grains of lead moving at 1225+ ft/s? Do they have to run that by the FDA first? Can the FDA ‘ban’ or ‘indefinitely detain’ their legally purchased shipments of lead?

    2. And televise it.

    3. As long as it doesn’t involve hemp you shouldn’t have any trouble from the Feds…

  10. I’d love to see a commenter here make the case that living out the rest of your life in a maximum security state penitentiary, including getting old, developing all kinds of typical health problems, including cancer, and being treated for them in whatever ghastly way these prisons treat such problems, is better than a quick clean death via CO poisoning or the guillotine.

    You’re going to die anyway, why go through the hell of an American prison first?

    1. The lethal injection could take the form of sucrose, administered over a couple decades until the prisoner develops Type 2 diabetus.

      1. On behalf of SugarFree…

        *narrows gaze*

    2. If I’m rightly convicted of a capital crime I deserve to die.

      If I’m wrongly convicted my personal choice would be death. Because there could be no justice after an extended stay in maximum security prison, even if I were subsequently exonerated.

      Others certainly may feel differently.

      1. I’d also like to see statistics on the media survival rate on death row vs. Gen Pop.

    3. Because the justice system has a history of wrongly convicting innocent people. In instances where someone is wrongly convicted and released, the state can and should try to make amends through things like financial restitution. In the cases where someone is wrongly executed, there is no undoing that.

      As for the death penalty itself, I’m against because I don’t trust the state with that kind of power. There have been too many cases of prosecutorial misconduct, like withholding exculpatory evidence, or biased labs working to produce results that prosecutors want, for me to trust the that any convicted criminal is 100% guilty.

      Some people may deserve killing, however, our current court system has shown itself to be inadequate to make those decisions.

      1. Once the guy is dead, there’s no interest in correcting mistakes. Some governor, maybe Illinois, commuted all death sentences to life because in one year, there had been 12 executions and 13 prisoners released from death row due to forged evidence, perjured testimony, etc, all by police and prosecutors. I have no doubt that most of them were scumbags for other reasons, but that doesn’t excuse letting the real murderers go free just because they are too damned lazy to do their job.

        That’s absolutely typical of government, and it’s bad enough when they are just stealing money and property. There’s no way I want them stealing life too.

      2. I accept the death penalty as an extension of the right to self defense/war.

        Practically speaking any state that employs any level of force must reserve the right to use lethal force. Otherwise the use of any force simply invokes an escalation to whatever level beyond which they will not proceed. Which is stupid.

        Total pacifist or death penalty, those really are the only options. And both have serious limitations.

        1. Self-defense is one thing. Premeditated execution as punishment is no longer self-defense.

          Far as I’m concerned, the only proper punishment is restitution, with the understanding that restitution is not limited to financial costs, such as medical care for an assault or value of property stolen. Restitution includes whatever the victim wants, within reason. Murder, for instance, could involve restitution of millions of dollars.

          And how do you enforce restitution if there’s no coercion allowed? You call them outlaws for whatever restitution is unpaid, and prohibit them from filing any complaints for lesser amounts. You owe $2000 for a burglary? Your victims, or anyone really, can steal from you to their heart’s content and there’s nothing you can do about it as long as it’s less than $2000. Owe millions for murder? *snicker* looks like your worthless life won’t even be able to complain about being kidnapped (prison), and possibly murder itself, if your crimes rose to that level.

          1. Self-defense is one thing. Premeditated execution as punishment is no longer self-defense.

            Far as I’m concerned, the only proper punishment is restitution, with the understanding that restitution is not limited to financial costs, such as medical care for an assault or value of property stolen.

            You’re being fickle about the definition of self-defense (or exceedingly generous on the ability of state-employed incompetents to rehabilitate violent criminals) and/or being exceedingly generous or liberal with the definition of restitution to the point where you’re effectively condoning at least capital punishment. It’s becoming tastes great/less filling.

            I think we can all say that we’d much rather see fewer people imprisoned generally and especially for ‘victimless’ crimes. See fewer prisoners on death row, while reserving the ability to winnow the number on death row by (potentially more judiciously) executing people who are, as truly as we can know, heinous, deplorable, guilty, and/or beyond recompense or reform.

            1. No, state executions are immoral. The State itself is immoral, but state executions are more so.

          2. “Premeditated execution as punishment is no longer self-defense”

            Begging the question aren’t you?

            How about:

            Premeditated execution as protection is self-defense.

            Dead criminals committing no further crime, much like dead enemies committing no further offensive acts.

            But as you note, self defense is morally more acceptable. Meaning that we must wait for someone to attack/commit the capital offense before offing them.

            None of which also considers the burden the state would impose on the rest of society by managing the convicted offender via other means. If the people are accepting of that approach then so be it, if they are not then death is a proper remedy.

            1. Which may sound pragmatic, but even a cursory examination of the reality of capital punishment shows it to be anything but.

            2. Didn’t read the rest of my comment, on restitution-only and outlaws, did you? I have no problem with victims recovering restitution from “their” criminals, if the criminals won’t voluntarily give it up. But it must be subject to judicial review, which state executions aren’t.

              1. I didn’t address your notions on ‘restitution’ because they are a pointless misdirection. You may wish to adhere to notions of punishment. I do not.

                You either accept the state employing lethal force or you do not. The particulars are just that.

                Commit a heinous enough act and the state is coming for you, if you resist they will escalate up to and including the use of lethal force. The notion that, having apprehended you, and established to some reasonable standard your guilt, that that somehow forecloses the option of lethal force does not necessarily follow.

                You have demonstrated a threat and remain a threat restitution notwithstanding. The question is how to respond to the continued threat. Elimination is an option.

                1. And your continual need to allow the bad actor recourse to the protective mechanisms and apparatus of the state, e.g. ‘judicial review’ is patently absurd when you consider that the entire practice of the judicial system is predicated on the ability to impose it’s will through the use of force.

                  1. You really need to get beyond the hang up on punishment, it is not the sole ends of justice.

                    The right of self defense extends to a lawful state.

                    Justice therefore places a corresponding duty upon the state to protect it’s citizens and self from threats, both external and internal. Acts may be undertaken, not for punitive purpose, but solely as a viable means of protection.

  11. Sad days when Reason cites Buzzfeed as a news source.

    1. It’s a couple of notches below their favorite cable news network, Russia Today (RT). What’s next? Gizmodo?

  12. In Trump’s America…

  13. Fanaticism? Please

    What the hell is wrong with these people? It’s like they assume Trump is every evil thing that they hate. They cant fathim the idea that someone would believe something diferently from them without it coming from a place of pure physchological id, which says more about them than anyone else.

  14. Oh, this is delicious.

    A drug is outlawed, so naturally the demand shifts to the black market. No surprise there. If, that is, you have two brain cells to rub together.

    If the FDA backs off, I wonder if the usual agency deference will induce the court to lift its injunction, or if agency deference only works when its what the judge wants to do anyway.

  15. I am against the death penalty, but if you are going to have it, and it seems that it is not going away any time soon here, why not just have it be a bullet to the back of the head? I can think of nothing more twisted than torturing an inmate by untrained prison personnel trying to get a needle in to carry untested drugs that could be dog piss for all anyone knows.

  16. End the charade and bring back firing-squads.

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