Arkansas high court: Some execution drug info can be secret

FILE - In a Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 file photo, Arkansas Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley, right, testifies before legislators at the state Capitol complex in Little Rock with deputy director Dale Reed at her side. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday, March 29, 2018, that Kelley’s agency must identify the companies that manufacture Arkansas’ execution drugs but that information that identifies the middlemen can be withheld. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state prison system must continue to identify the manufacturers of its execution drugs but can conceal information that could be used to identify those who obtain the drugs for the state.

Pharmaceutical companies won't sell their drugs for use in executions, which has led some states to obtain execution drugs through middle men or from made-to-order compounding pharmacies. Arkansas' current supply has only come from pharmaceutical companies, not compounders.

The Arkansas Department of Correction insists that secrecy is needed to ensure a steady supply of the drugs. It argued last year that the secrecy that extends to the middle men who provide the drugs to the state should also extend to manufacturers. But a Pulaski County judge ruled that it shouldn't and the state Supreme Court agreed with that ruling Thursday.

"The identity of drug manufacturers is not protected," Justice Karen Baker wrote for the majority. "Because disclosure of information such as lot, batch, and-or control numbers could lead to the identification of the seller and-or supplier ... the ADC is required to redact and maintain this information as confidential."

Four of the court's seven justices listed ways in which they concurred and dissented,

The ruling means that Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen must hold a hearing to determine where to draw a line that guarantees the privacy of the middle men.

"We are thrilled that the Supreme Court recognized the right of Arkansans to critical information regarding the manufacturers of life-saving drugs that the state misuses for executions against the manufacturers' stated wishes," said Heather Zachary, a lawyer for Steven Shults, a Little Rock attorney who sued to obtain the labels on the state's batches of execution drugs.

The Department of Correction declined to comment.

Arkansas currently does not have a full supply of execution drugs. Seventy-five vials of vecuronium bromide expired March 1, leaving the state without a way to shut down the inmates' lungs during an execution. It obtained replacement doses of the sedative midazolam and the heart-stopping potassium chloride last year.

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Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kisselAP


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