Ben Hoyle, Los Angeles
December 11 2017, 12:01am,
At least two states are preparing to use a drug blamed for America’s epidemic of opioid deaths in executions.
Nevada and Nebraska plan to use fentanyl despite the objections of doctors and opponents of the death penalty, who say that the approach is untested and could lead to agonising, botched executions.
One advantage of the synthetic drug is that it is formidably potent: 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is also easy to get hold of.
Fentanyl has become notorious as a devastating recreational drug but is also frequently used as an anaesthetic before major surgery or to treat severe pain in patients with advanced cancer.
The Nevada Department of Corrections said that officials ordered it through their regular pharmaceutical distributor. That matters because while capital punishment is a moral issue for many Americans, it is also increasingly a logistical one for those tasked with making it possible.
Public support for the death penalty has declined sharply in recent years, leading to a corresponding drop in executions. So far this year American states have put 23 inmates to death, only three more than last year, which was the fewest in a quarter of a century. Nineteen states have scrapped executions, a third of those in the past decade.
Under pressure from opponents many pharmaceutical companies have refused to supply the drugs that states have usually used to carry out executions by lethal injection.
“If death penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates’ pain they would reopen the supply,” Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which defends the rights of crime victims, said. Instead, he told The Washington Post, they had created “the problem we’re now in by forcing pharmaceuticals to cut off the supply. That’s why states are turning to less-than-optimal choices.”
Some states are returning to old methods of execution such as firing squads and the electric chair. Others are testing new drugs on criminals.
Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma are among states that have executed inmates using the sedative midazolam in the past three years, leading to a spate of what the Supreme Court judge Sonia Sotomayor called “horrifying deaths”.
Oklahoma and Mississippi have both authorised but not yet tried the use of nitrogen gas in executions, even though critics argue that there is almost no scientific research to suggest that it would be any more humane.
Prison officials in Nevada and Nebraska could both carry out executions using fentanyl as part of an injection of drugs early next year. Nevada, which last executed someone in 2006, had planned to execute a 47-year-old inmate using fentanyl last month but the order was postponed by a judge, who cited concerns about another part of the injection package. The intended recipient was Scott Dozier, who was convicted of killing a man in a Las Vegas hotel, cutting him into pieces and stealing his money. He has said that he wants to be killed by firing squad.
Fentanyl has helped to fuel an opioid epidemic that killed about 64,000 people in the US last year and cost the country about $500 billion the year before, almost 3 per cent of GDP.
“There’s a cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone,” Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts who has spent more than 40 years studying the death penalty, said.
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Ryan Adair 3 hours ago
Is there any scientific basis for fear of painful Death from a Fentanyl overdose?
I am genuinely asking as I cannot see how this could ever lead to a painful death? It would definitely kill you, how could it hurt?
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