You thought your prescription drugs were overpriced? Check this out: the State of Missouri has paid over $125,000 cash to a private, anonymous pharmacy for phenobarbital, the drug used for execution by lethal injection. That works out to nearly $7,200 per dose (two vials) – which greatly exceeds the market value of the drug. When death row inmates issued a subpoena to the Missouri Department of Corrections in order to force them to reveal the source of the drugs, lawyers for the pharmacy argued that their sale of phenobarbital to the state was “political speech,” and therefore, its right to anonymity is protected by the First Amendment.

Known only as “M7,” the pharmacist supplying the execution drug asserts that revealing his (or her) identity will compromise his “personal safety and well-being.” The pharmacist’s attorney also argues that the client’s “decision to provide lethal chemicals to the Department was based on M7’s political views on the death penalty, and not based on economic reasons.”

Considering that M7 makes nearly $7,200 a pop selling phenobarbital, that’s difficult to believe.

It gets better: it turns out that all the personnel involved in a given execution are paid generously – in cash. The nurse (identified only as “M2”) receives $2,400, and the anesthesiologist who actually administers the drug gets $3,000 – all in cash, all under the table.

There is no record of the Missouri DOC issuing any 1099 forms as required by law. Tax regulations require that any person or entity who pays a private contractor $600 or more in a calendar year to file a 1099 so the IRS and insure that income taxes are paid. However, over the past three years, the state’s Director of Adult Institutions, David Dormire, has paid out nearly $285,000 in cash to individuals involved in carrying out executions – and he has no record of knowledge of any 1099s being issued or received.

When questioned by an attorney representing death row inmates about whether or not he had furnished any proof to the IRS that people were paid for their services, Dormire’s only response was, “I do not know.” In fact, nobody at the Missouri DOC seems to know anything, although a spokesperson said the matter was being reviewed.

Political views or opinions on the death penalty aside, it appears that the Show Me State is flaunting the law when it comes to federal taxes. Not only are executioners being paid large sums under the table, so is the pharmacist – at inflated prices that are far above fair market value for such a product.

There is conceivably an argument for maintaining the anonymity of an executioner and those involved in carrying out the death penalty. As far back as the Middle Ages, executioners wore hoods for just that reason.

The real issue here is money. Why is this pharmacist being paid exorbitant sums by the state? And why isn’t the compensation being paid to executioners and their assistants being reported as required by law?

Unless the Missouri DOC comes up with a reasonable explanation, a lot of people will be facing the wrath of the U.S. Treasury Department – and anonymity will be the least of their worries.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.