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Death row drugs 'may be defective'

Drugs used for lethal injection in the United States which were supplied by a British pharmaceutical company may have been defective, leading to potentially agonising deaths for prisoners, according to an expert on execution.

Dream Pharma, a small company run from the back of the Elgone Driving Agency in Horn Lane, Acton, west London, is understood to have supplied the anaesthetic sodium thiopental which was used in the execution of convicted murderer Emmanuel Hammond in Georgia.

Before the execution Mark Heath filed a sworn declaration which raised concerns over whether the thiopental sold to Georgia Department of Corrections "lacked efficacy".

He said it was "extremely troubling" that after triple-murderer Brandon Rhode was injected with thiopental during his execution in September, his eyes remained open. Some reports suggested his eyes darted around the room before staring blankly at the ceiling of the death chamber.

The thiopental used in his execution is also understood to have been supplied by Dream Pharma.

Dr Heath said this was "very unusual and surprising" and raised the concern that either the thiopental was incorrectly administered or the integrity of the drug was "significantly compromised".

Sodium thiopental is used first to induce a coma, followed by pancuronium bromide which paralyses the muscles, and potassium chloride which stops the heart.

Dr Heath said: "If the thiopental was inadequately effective Mr Rhode's death would certainly have been agonising.

"There is no dispute that the asphyxiation caused by pancuronium and the caustic burning sensation caused by potassium would be agonising in the absence of adequate anaesthesia."

He said the origin of the thiopental used in the executions was "highly unusual".

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