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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

US death row injection comes from Mumbai firm

By Babu Ram-MUMBAI: Correctional services in the US are buying sodium thiopental from a little-known firm in Borivli (West) for use in lethal injections to execute death sentences.

Kayem Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd, at Marian Colony, shipped a 500-gram consignment of the yellow powder, packed in a hefty 25-kg strongbox, on December 8, 2010, to the Nebraska department of correctional services. Sodium thiopental is generally used along with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride to create a cocktail with which several states in the US carry out the death sentence by lethal injection. In February this year, Kayem sold another consignment to the South Dakota department of corrections. Executions are yet to be carried out by Nebraska or South Dakota with the drug purchased from Kayem.

Sodium thiopental has been in short supply in the US for about a year after the sole American company that manufactured it ceased production. That has forced American prisons to look abroad. For Nebraska and South Dakota, that search led to the residential Greenfield Cooperative Housing Society in Borivli (West), where Kayem is located. Kayem is a two-room set-up — office and storeroom — with a balcony that doubles as a kitchen.

American prisons have taken flak for purchasing sodium thiopental, used in lethal injections, from overseas. An earlier purchase from the UK apparently degraded by the time it reached American shores, said Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, an international charity assisting people around the world facing the death penalty. "The failure of the sodium thiopental purchased in the UK has thus far caused the excruciating and torturous death of three people, one in Arizona and two in Georgia," Smith said.

That prompted a lawyer in Nebraska — where the execution of Carey Dean Moore, 53, is pending — to move court there against the use of the sodium thiopental bought from Kayem. There were also questions raised about whether Kayem is properly registered in the US.

Officials in the Nebraska corrections department did not respond to queries emailed by this newspaper. However, replying to the court in the Nebraska case, state solicitor-general J Kirk Brown said: "The state of Nebraska has duly enacted a new statutory method of execution (lethal injection) and adopted an execution protocol pursuant to the statute, which together satisfy all currently understood requirements of our state and federal constitutions."

Kayem, a small-scale Indian company, may now be in a position to increase its business. "Several American states have now approached us for sodium thiopental," said Navneet Verma, director, Kayem Pharmaceuticals. Verma said he sold the first consignment of 500 grams to the Nebraska correctional services at $3.50 a gram. That works out to $1,750, or around Rs 78,000. When officials at the South Dakota department of corrections evinced interest to buy the same drug, Kayem jacked the price up to $10 a gram.

Derived by mixing sodium and thiopentone, the drug sodium thiopental doesn't really require a huge facility to manufacture and goes for around Rs 35 a gram in the Indian market.




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