In rush to find lethal injection drug, prison officials turned to a hospital

This was published in The Lens, on Aug. 6th 2014:
By Della Hasselle, Contributor

In January, as the date of Christopher Sepulvado’s execution approached, the Louisiana Department of Corrections did not have the drugs it needed to carry out his death sentence.

So the state turned to a supplier that uses hydromorphone to relieve patients’ suffering, not to kill them: Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

“We assumed the drug was for one of their patients, so we sent it. We did not realize what the focus was,” said Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, a board member for the private, nonprofit hospital and chief judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

“Had we known of the real use,” he said, “we never would have done it.”

The Department of Corrections bought 20 vials of the drug on Jan. 28, a week before Sepulvado’s scheduled execution, according to a document provided by the state in a lawsuit challenging its lethal-injection practice.

Until now, the source of those vials has not been publicly known.

Thibodeaux said it’s routine for hospital pharmacies to supply drugs to other pharmacies, including those run by the state, for their patients.

“We never inquire into the purpose for it. We assume it’s for legitimate and noble purposes,” Thibodeaux said. “We have assurances from our CEO, who is a very forthright guy, that this will not happen again.”

State officials with the Louisiana Department of Corrections did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this story. Sepulvado’s lawyers declined to comment.

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