Missouri’s execution drug, the sedative pentobarbital, is made by a compounding pharmacy in a St. Louis suburb, according to a BuzzFeed report published Tuesday.
The identity of the compounding pharmacy has been a state secret, despite lawsuits brought by media outlets and inmates, the latter claiming it was information they needed to know to ensure that executions will not inflict pain and suffering.
BuzzFeed’s Chris McDaniel reports that two anonymous sources said the supplier is Foundation Care. The company, in Earth City, Missouri, was sold last year to a subsidiary of St. Louis-based health care company Centene.
In McDaniel's article, Foundation Care denied its participation in executions. The company did not respond to requests for comment from St. Louis Public Radio, where McDaniel previously worked. Centene, however, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that since it bought Foundation Care, the compounding pharmacy had not and "will never supply" drugs for executions.
State Department of Correction spokeswoman Karen Pojmann told KCUR in an email, “I'm afraid we aren’t able to comment.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement to St. Louis Public Radio that BuzzFeed's investigation showed why the state had fought so hard to keep Foundation Care's identity a secret. The ACLU has several open records lawsuits pending against the Department of Corrections.
Compounding pharmacies make small batches of drugs and are state-regulated. Rob Dunham with the Death Penalty Information Center has said the “quality varies greatly” when it comes to compounded drugs. He also said the drugs are “typically produced in anticipation of a pending execution” because the shelf life is “weeks or months” versus manufactured pentobarbital, which is good for a couple of years.
The state had 30 vials of pentobarbital as of Dec. 28, 2017, according to a document obtained by KCUR through a public records request. That’s enough for 15 executions, though there is only one scheduled so far for 2018, on March 20.
Backed by court records and regulatory findings, the BuzzFeed report says Foundation Care was designated a “high-risk” pharmacy in 2013 by the FDA. Other problems in the report include a lawsuit against two former employees for failing to notify other states about a $300,000 fraud allegation settlement with the state of Kansas.
Georgia and Texas, which also use pentobarbital-only execution processes, have been transparent about obtaining their pentobarbital from compounding pharmacies, but those names are state secrets.
Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media and a contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @ehunzinger.