APNewsBreak: Complaint targets Ga. execution doc

June 20, 2011 - 10:56 AM

ATLANTA (AP) — A civil rights group filed a complaint Monday asking Georgia's medical board to revoke the license of a physician who participates in lethal injections in an attempt to halt an execution scheduled this week, claiming he illegally imported a drug and sold it to prison officials in Tennessee and Kentucky.

The filing by the Southern Center for Human Rights asks Georgia's Composite Medical Board to revoke the license of Dr. Carlo Musso over his role in importing sodium thiopental, a sedative used in the three-drug lethal injection combination that was in scarce supply. Musso has participated in several executions in Georgia, and the complaint comes as the state prepares to execute an inmate on Thursday using a substitute drug for the first time.

The complaint, obtained by The Associated Press, raises fresh questions about how states obtained sodium thiopental amid the supply shortage, claiming that Musso ran afoul of the law by importing the drug from overseas manufacturers without first registering with state regulators. It also asks the board to revoke the licenses of physicians associated with his companies, CorrectHealth and Rainbow Medical Associates.

"This is a complaint about the law and whether the person importing and distributing the drug is properly licensed," said Jessica Oats, a staff attorney with the center. "Dr. Musso was not. Georgia's Medical Board should revoke Dr. Musso's license to practice medicine. At the very least, it should suspend his license pending a full investigation."

Musso could not immediately be reached for comment. He has denied selling drugs across state lines, previously telling the Associated Press those allegations are "completely in error."

"We're not the middle man. We've been asked to do that, and I've said, quite frankly, 'No, we're not going to do that.' We'll send them off to other suppliers, and other departments of corrections," Musso said in February.

CorrectHealth has a contract with the state Department of Corrections to provide health services for inmates and assist with execution.

The complaint filed Monday includes records from prison officials in Kentucky and Tennessee who said they obtained the drug from Musso's companies. The Drug Enforcement Administration later took stockpiles of the drugs from Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky amid questions about how they were obtained. The investigation is still ongoing.

"Just as the DEA seized the drugs purchased by the Georgia DOC, so did the DEA follow Dr. Musso's unregistered sales of the illegally obtained sodium thiopental and seize the drugs purchased by Kentucky and Tennessee," the filing said.

Many of the nation's 34 death penalty states have scrambled to find a new supplier of sodium thiopental after Hospira Inc., its sole manufacturer in the U.S., said in January it would no longer make the drug. Several states postponed executions amid the shortage, and most have switched or are considering switching to pentobarbital, a substitute drug.

Georgia's sodium thiopental supply, meanwhile, came under scrutiny when corrections officials released documents in court that showed the state bought the drug from Dream Pharma in London. Defense attorneys call Dream Pharma a fly-by-night supplier that operates from the back of a driving school. The firm has refused to respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.

State and federal law requires any person or organization who distributes a controlled substance, such as sodium thiopental, to first register with the Georgia Board of Pharmacy and then the DEA, the complaint said. Not doing so, it said, is a "serious felony" that could result in prison time.

The state pharmacy board said it has not licensed Musso or his facilities, according to a March letter included in the complaint. The Justice Department would not confirm or deny whether Musso or his companies were licensed, according to a June letter attached to the filing.

But the complaint said he couldn't have a federal license because he doesn't have a state one.

The records also link Musso's companies with sales to the other states. Tennessee officials, according to the records, bought 50 vials of sodium thiopental from Rainbow Medical in October 2010 for $1,551. Kentucky's prison department, the documents show, purchased 18 grams of the drug in February 2011 from CorrectHealth.

The complaint was filed days before Georgia is set to execute Roy Willard Blankenship, who would be the first inmate in Georgia put to death using the new three-drug combination that swapped sodium thiopental for pentobarbital. The center said its complaint was based on the drug issue, not Musso's role in executions.

"That the drug at issue in this case was used in executions by lethal injection is incidental," the filing said. "The law makes no distinction whether a drug is to be used to save lives or end lives. It is only concerned whether the person or entity importing and distributing the drug is properly licensed and authorized. Dr. Musso was neither."

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