U.S. lawmakers ask four companies about role in government's execution drugs

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK, July 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Congress members wrote to three private laboratories on Tuesday that were revealed to have been testing the purity of a lethal-injection drug for the U.S. Department of Justice as it carried out the first federal execution in 17 years.

The House of Representative's Oversight Committee wrote to three laboratories identified in a Reuters investigation published on Friday into the companies involved in a secret supply chain to make and test the drug.

In a fourth letter, the lawmakers also identified a company that may have helped make the drug.

The letters asked the companies to provide information about their role in helping the Justice Department acquire a supply of pentobarbital, the powerful barbiturate that the department used to execute Daniel Lee, a convicted murderer, earlier on Tuesday.

The Justice Department has rebuffed requests by lawmakers, journalists and death row inmates to identify the companies involved, saying they will only do the work if secrecy is assured.

But ARL Bio Pharma in Oklahoma City, Eagle Analytical Services in Houston and DYNALABS in St. Louis all confirmed to Reuters that they produced the quality-control test results that the Justice Department cited in court filings.

A fourth letter was sent to Absolute Standards in Hamden, Connecticut, a company that makes samples of highly pure chemicals for use in calibrating laboratory testing equipment.

The letter, signed by Democratic committee members Jamie Raskin and Ayanna Pressley, indicates that lawmakers believe Absolute Standards may be the manufacturer of a raw, powdered form of pentobarbital for the Justice Department. The department has said it has also hired a pharmacy to mix that powder into a sterile, injectible solution.

The letter to Absolute Standards includes redacted lab records the Justice Department said were supplied by its manufacturer.

Because the chemicals Absolute Standards normally makes are not intended for use in humans or animals, it has not needed to register as a controlled substances manufacturer with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In September 2018, according to the Federal Register, the company sought DEA approval for the first time to become a so-called "bulk manufacturer" of just one controlled substance: pentobarbital.

A few weeks later, an unnamed company described as a "bulk manufacturer" began producing raw pentobarbital powder for the Justice Department, the department's court filings show.

Stephen Arpie, the director of Absolute Standards, did not respond to requests for comment on the lawmakers' letter. In interviews with Reuters earlier this year, Arpie at first said his company had no involvement in the government's execution drugs. He later said he did not always know what his customers did with his products, and so could not rule out involvement.

"In many parts of our market, we don't know what the final intended use is going to be," he said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

((jonathan.allen@reuters.com; +1 646 223 5371; Reuters Messaging: jonathan.allen.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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