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Special Report : How the Trump administration secured a secret supply of execution drugs


The headquarters of DYNALABS

(Reuters) - If the Trump administration carries out the first federal execution since 2003 on Monday, as scheduled, it will mark the culmination of a three-year campaign to line up a secret supply chain to make and test lethal-injection drugs, a Reuters investigation has found.

Intent on enforcing the death penalty, President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice had started building the network of contractors it would need by May 2017, federal procurement records show. Since then, it has pursued a new drug protocol that could survive legal challenges through firms whose identities it has fought to keep hidden. Without the secrecy, the government has argued in court filings, its ability to procure the drugs would be “severely impaired” because the companies are not willing to supply or test execution drugs if they are publicly identified.


In some cases, even the companies involved in testing the deadly pentobarbital said they didn’t know its intended purpose. Among them is DynaLabs in downtown St. Louis, a laboratory that years ago decided against doing quality tests on execution drugs because of the controversy surrounding capital punishment.

So co-founder Michael Pruett was surprised to learn from a Reuters reporter that his firm had been testing drugs that the Justice Department planned to use in lethal injections of condemned prisoners. The vials containing 50 milliliters of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, began arriving at his firm for testing on April 9 of last year, according to laboratory records included in Justice Department filings.


The samples came not from the government, but rather a regular DynaLabs customer, a so-called compounding pharmacy that mixes custom-ordered drugs. Because pentobarbital has other uses, such as euthanizing animals or treating seizures, Pruett said he had little reason to suspect they might be used to kill condemned prisoners.


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