Texas prison officials asked a federal judge Wednesday to rescind a U.S. Food and Drug Administration order that blocks the corrections agency from receiving a foreign shipment of a drug that the state wants to use for executions.
Attorneys for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice filed suit in U.S. District Court in Galveston, arguing that it's unlawful for the U.S. agency to refuse importation of 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental that have been detained since July 2015 at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport. The prison agency also wants the court to block the FDA from imposing similar prohibitions in the future.
The drug shipment was purchased by the prison agency from an unidentified foreign drug supplier.
"The refusal order directly harms TDCJ by preventing TDCJ from having the option of using the drugs at issue in lawful executions," according to the court filing. The lawsuit also contended the prison agency's reputation was being damaged because the order formally decided it "has attempted to import drugs in violation of federal law."
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FDA spokeswoman Lyndsay Meyer said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
A status conference on the case was set for Thursday before U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks Jr.
The FDA last week, in what it termed its final decision in the case, said the drugs "appear to be unapproved new drugs and misbranded drugs" and must be exported or be destroyed within 90 days.
Texas -- the most active death penalty state in the U.S. -- insists its purchase falls within a "law enforcement" exemption, is not for patient use and is labeled as not for patient use. The state has followed all laws to import the shipment, the prison agency has said.
U.S. officials have said the drug has no legal uses in the United States.
Texas has carried out 542 lethal injections since 1982, including four this year, and has used the sedative pentobarbital for executions since 2012. The barbiturate sodium thiopental was part of a three-drug process Texas used previously for executions.
Corrections agencies in death penalty states around the U.S. have had difficulties obtaining execution drugs since traditional drugmakers-- many of them under pressure from capital punishment opponents -- have barred sales of their products for use in lethal injections. Texas prison officials have declined to provide any details about the state's ordered drugs. A state law allows Texas to withhold the identity of its lethal injection drug provider.