Reprieve exposes Acton-based Dream Pharma as the culprit that exported execution drugs to the US

January 6, 2011

One man is already dead, and many more to come, as a result of pharmaceutical company Dream Pharma’s pursuit of profit; Reprieve proposes a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for ethical pharmacies.

Dream Pharma is exposed today as the UK source of all three drugs used to execute prisoners in the US. Reprieve releases documentary proof that the Acton-based company sold the drugs to Arizona that were used in the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan on October 26th, 2010, and that will send many other prisoners to their deaths. 

Dream Pharma Ltd, of 176 Horn Lane, London W3 6PJ, is a pharmaceutical company run by Matt Alavi. It operates from a rented space in the back of a driving instructor’s office, Elgone Driving Academy, pictured right.

Mr Alavi sold 150 vials of sodium thiopental, 180 vials of potassium chloride, and 450 vials of pancuronium bromide to the Arizona State Prison on September 28th, 2010. This was sufficient to execute at least ten prisoners, and one has already died as a result. The sodium thiopental was sold for £1,180.50, a mark-up of roughly 1000% over the normal price in the US. The State of Arizona sought permission from the state supreme court on December 28th to go forward with the next prisoners in line for execution. 

Reprieve can also reveal today that before Arizona, the State of Arkansas bought drugs from the UK, though the precise quantity is not yet known. Furthermore, as of two days ago, an additional 1,042 vials of sodium thiopental (sufficient to execute 85 prisoners) were released to California by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), after importation from the UK. This is all thought to have been sourced from Dream Pharma, although the company has declined to confirm the fact, or produce the invoices. Various other states’ recent purchases of execution drugs from the UK remain secret. 

Reprieve has written to Dream Pharma twice, and met with Alavi once; Dream Pharma has refused all cooperation with Reprieve’s efforts to mitigate the damage caused by these sales.

Meanwhile, the government has acted with unacceptable sloth. A month after Reprieve’s original request, and only when pressed by litigation, Business Innovation and Skills Secretary Vince Cable banned the export of sodium thiopental in late November. Reprieve gave Cable notice on December 16th that a UK company had exported two other execution drugs (pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride) to the US, and called on him to impose an immediate export ban on them as well. The BIS has yet to act. Neither did the BIS apparently act on Reprieve’s request – made on December 7th – to intervene to ensure that the British drugs were not released to California by the US FDA. The FDA announcement on January 4th reveals that any intervention by Cable will now be too late.

Meanwhile, Reprieve has called upon various pharmaceutical companies to assist in the task of preventing their drugs from being used to kill people. Thus far, the response has been anaemic, suggesting that the companies’ commercial interests override any legal or ethical obligations. Hameln has been the only exception, taking urgent action to ensure that its drugs would not be used for executions. In sharp contrast, Hospira has specifically stated its opposition to a ban, and has refused any assistance from Reprieve in repairing the damage done by the exportation of these drugs.

Reprieve condemns the irresponsible attitude taken by most pharmaceutical companies and calls upon them to voluntarily establish an industry Hippocratic code asserting that their drugs should be used only for the benefit of patients, not for executions.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“It is shocking that Britain has allowed a fly-by-night company in the back of a driving academy to export sufficient drugs to take many lives. The manner in which dangerous pharmaceuticals have been shuffled around without any controls points to a far deeper problem.

“Dream Pharma has sadly chosen a rather inappropriate name, unless it refers to Hamlet: ‘for in that sleep of death what dreams may come?’

“Our purpose is not to persecute Dream Pharma, but to ensure that they help us repair the damage that they have caused. This they resolutely refuse to do. Dream Pharma asserts that selling these drugs was no different from selling a hammer in a hardware shop. The analogy is apposite only if we include one fact: the customer told the salesman that he planned to bludgeon someone to death with it outside the store.

“Dream Pharma’s tentative assertion to the media that they did not know the drugs were to be used for executions is simply false. The three drugs they sold to the Arizona State Prison are the three drugs used for lethal injection, and the emails back and forth make it clear that they knew precisely what they were doing. Indeed, Mr Alavi made it clear to Reprieve that he favoured capital punishment. Sadly, the profit was blood money, pure and simple.

“Vince Cable has been sitting on his hands on this issue. If he is really against the death penalty, his office needs to read urgent requests for help in less than the two weeks it took here, and then act with urgency.”

For more information please contact Kat O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office: / 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or Clive Stafford Smith: / 07940-347125.

Other contacts: 

Matt Alavi, Managing Director, Dream Pharma Ltd, 176 Horn Lane, London W3 6PJ Tel: 0208-992-7000; Fax: 0208-992-7001; Email:

Vince Cable, Business Secretary, tel: (UK) 020 7215 5000

Jim Ellis, Sr. Attorney, Chief Regulatory Counsel Hospira, Inc., 275 North Field Drive, Dept. NLEG, Bldg. H1, Lake Forest, IL 60045; Tel. 224.212.2866;

Notes for Editors:


The US has recently run short of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, the drugs used in the execution protocol. On Monday 25th October, Jeffery Landrigan was executed in Arizona using drugs supplied by a British company – despite a plea for clemency from the judge who sentenced him to death. The Arizona consignment was sufficient for four executions, so the British company will contribute to three more deaths there.

Soon afterwards, the American lawyers for Edmund Zagorski contacted Reprieve with a plea for help: Tennessee was seeking to purchase the drugs to kill Mr Zagorski, apparently from the same British company. On Thursday 28th October, Reprieve and Leigh Day contacted the Government and asked for emergency measures to be taken to avoid British complicity in Mr Zagorski’s execution. On Monday, November 1st, Mr. Cable responded that the British government would take no such step, because if the US did not get the drug from the UK it would just go elsewhere. Mr. Cable also said he was unwilling to interfere unnecessarily in US-UK trade. On behalf of the FCO, Jeremy Browne took the same line.

On Tuesday 2nd November, lawyers with Leigh Day & Co. filed a judicial review application of the Government’s refusal to lift a hand to prevent British complicity in a series of American executions. The British government finally announced an export restriction on Monday 29th November.

On December 6th the California authorities stated that they had imported the drugs from Archimedes Pharma and that the drugs are currently with the FDA in Washington DC:

State corrections officials today revealed how they obtained a scarce drug used in lethal injection executions, saying they received one small batch from Arizona officials and ordered another, larger batch from a British manufacturer.

California corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the first batch of 12 grams of sodium thiopental came from Arizona on Sept. 30 and that California was not charged for it.

The second batch of 521 grams was ordered from Archimedes Pharma, a British company, and corrections officials paid $36,415 for it, she said. The shipment was approved by U.S. Customs officials and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Thornton said, and is now on hold on the East coast awaiting release by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

See Sam Stanton, California got execution drugs from Arizona, British sources, Sacramento Bee (Dec. 6, 2010), at (accessed Dec. 7, 2010).

While the list cost of the drugs imported by California should be no more than $1,000, California paid $36,415 for its supply – a blood money mark up of 3,500%.

Sodium thiopental is supposed to anaesthetise the victim before pancuronium bromide is used to paralyse the victim and finally potassium chloride is used to induce a heart attack. These are all bona fide medicines. However, they are used because they are normally cheap – being no longer subject to patent. This is also one reason that it has not been economical for US pharmaceutical firms to continue to produce the drugs and keep up a supply for the executing states.

The FDA took the position that the importation of Sodium Thiopental (and apparently the other drugs as well) was illegal under their regulations: On October 22, FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess told The Arizona Republic that there is no FDA-approved source for the importation of Sodium Thiopental. Burgess said that the FDA has control over its manufacture and distribution in the U.S. ” FDA is not aware of any firm currently able to supply thiopental to the U.S.,” she said. “A company would need to submit an application to FDA in order to be considered for approval including approval for overseas manufacturers of a drug for U.S. markets.” See Arizona Republic (October 22, 2010),

However, on January 4th, 2011, the FDA announced that they were not going to enforce their own regulations, but were going to allow the drugs into the US for the purpose of executions. Indeed, they agreed to Arizona’s request that the importation of the drugs be expedited because they were going to be used for execution purposes.

On December 16th, Reprieve brought to Vince Cable’s attention that Arizona had already sourced the two other execution drugs (Pancuronium Bromide and Potassium Chloride) from the UK, and was advising California on how to do the same. Reprieve asked for a ban on the export of these two drugs as well by December 20th. Cable’s office did not acknowledge receiving and reading this letter until December 29th. Indeed, Cable’s office told the BBC on December 27th that no such request had been made – notwithstanding the fact that Reprieve had emailed, faxed, posted and hand-delivered the letter on December 16th to ensure urgent receipt.

Only by showing precisely how these drugs were made, how they are different from the US-made equivalent, and how they were imported, can Reprieve help the American lawyers to prevent the execution of many prisoners. Thus, if lives are to be saved, it is vital that the pharmaceutical companies cooperate to repair the damage that has been done.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Email:

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner