- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The planned audit of a state agency that has come under scrutiny for its use of a new death penalty drug is not directly tied to Missouri’s resumption of lethal injections, an official said Monday.

State Auditor Tom Schweich announced the review of the Missouri Department of Corrections late last week in a two-paragraph news release. The agency oversees the state prison system.

Deputy auditor Harry Otto called the planned audit “routine” Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It’s time,” Otto said, noting that the most recent audit of the corrections department took place in 2009. “We’re not in there because we have uncovered a certain problem.”

Missouri has executed two inmates in recent months after switching to a one-drug execution method using the sedative pentobarbital. A third execution is scheduled for later this month.

Like many other states, Missouri used a three-drug execution method for decades until pharmaceutical companies stopped selling those drugs to prisons to avoid being linked to capital punishment. The drug used in Missouri comes from an unidentified Oklahoma compounding pharmacy not licensed to do business in the neighboring state.

The corrections department says the pharmacy is part of the execution team and protected by state privacy laws. Department spokesman David Owen on Monday declined to discuss the audit.

Attorneys for death-row inmates, including Herbert Smulls, scheduled for execution on Jan. 29, want the state’s U.S. attorneys and the Missouri Board of Pharmacy to investigate if laws were broken in obtaining the drug. Attorney Cheryl Pilate, who represents Smulls, said she and her colleagues “have very substantial reason to believe” that the unnamed Oklahoma pharmacy broke laws in its own state by using expired drugs.

Told of Otto’s comments, Pilate said she plans to provide the state auditor’s office with substantial information showing that Missouri’s new execution protocol deserves far more scrutiny.

“We believe the information we provide to them will likely cause them to treat it as anything but a routine audit,” she said. “There’s a lot to look at.”

Missouri originally planned to switch to the anesthetic propofol, but Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the state to find a new drug in October, after concerns were raised that Missouri’s use of the drug could lead to a nationwide shortage if the European Union, which opposes the death penalty, made good on threats to limit exports. While propofol is widely used by hospitals across the U.S., most of it is made in Europe.

Several states now get their execution drugs from compounding pharmacies, which custom mix drugs for individual clients. Unlike typical pharmaceutical firms, compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though they are subject to state regulations.


Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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