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U.S. judge blocks sale of controversial execution drug to Missouri

By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a pharmacy from providing a compound execution drug to Missouri jailers to use in the February 26 lethal injection of Michael Taylor, guilty in the death of a 15-year-old girl.

Missouri and several other U.S. states that have the death penalty have increasingly been forced to look for alternate drugs and sources of drugs for executions as pharmaceutical companies have raised objections to their products being used in capital punishment.

Some states have turned to so-called compounding pharmacies, which produce small amounts of drugs by prescription and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, prompting defense attorneys to question the quality of the drugs and whether they could cause undue pain during an execution.

U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern on Wednesday afternoon granted a temporary restraining order preventing one such pharmacy, The Apothecary Shoppe, from supplying compounded pentobarbital to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The order came after Taylor's attorneys argued in a federal lawsuit filed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week that he could suffer "severe, unnecessary, lingering and ultimately inhumane pain" if the drug is used.

"This is not an acceptable method for carrying out executions - to use an unlawful and dangerous drug - so we are hoping to stop that from happening," Matthew Hellman, one of Taylor's defense attorneys, told Reuters late on Wednesday.

The state has used compounded pentobarbital, a fast-acting barbiturate, in its recent executions.

The lawsuit sought a restraining order as well as an injunction preventing the pharmacy from delivering the drug for Taylor's execution, Hellman said.

It was unclear whether the pharmacy had already delivered the drug. An evidentiary hearing was set for Tuesday.

The increasing use of in some cases untested compounded drugs has revived the debate over the death penalty in the United States.

In Oklahoma, an inmate said he felt burning through his body when the drugs used to kill him were injected during an execution in early January. Taylor's attorneys cited the Oklahoma case in their lawsuit, Hellman said.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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