A new purpose for the driving force behind the nations opioid epidemic. Nevada and Nebraska wants to use the powerful synthetic painkiller Fentanyl to execute prisoners on death row, while doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. Warnings from those in disagreement say the untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful and botched executions.
But states are running out of ways to carry out executions due to problems obtaining the drugs they have used in the past, because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply the drugs for executions. Other states are passing laws allowing older methods, such as using a firing squad or an electric chair.
“We’re in a new era,” said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University. “States have now gone through all the drugs closest to the original ones for lethal injection. And the more they experiment, the more they’re forced to use new drugs that we know less about in terms of how they might work in an execution.”
This situation has led other states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi had legalized nitrogen gas as a back up method over the spring of 2017, but it has yet to be made clear if it will be while in a gas chamber or through a gas mask.
Fentanyl offers several advantages over more widely used drugs. It’s potency makes it 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Nevada officials say they had no problem buying fentanyl from their pharmaceutical distributors.
“We simply ordered it through our pharmaceutical distributor, just like every other medication we purchase, and it was delivered,” Brooke Keast, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections, said in an email. “Nothing out of the ordinary at all.”
The first Fentanyl-assisted killing has been planned for an inmate named Scott Dozier, who was convicted of killing a man in Las Vegas hotel, cutting him into pieces and robing him. Nevada’s protocol calls for Dozier to first receive diazepam, then fentanyl to cause him to lose consciousness. Both large doses would cause a person to stop breathing. Nevada would like to follow up the two drugs with a third drug named cisatracurium to paralyze his muscles.
Fentanyl related deaths rose 540% last year, with an astounding 20,100 deaths. This was the drug responsible for the most deaths during the current opioid epidemic (2016). Due to the driving insurance costs for prescription painkillers, people are now buying fentanyl on the street to replace the drugs. Inexperienced drug users are unaware of the drugs strength and which has caused the rising number of unintentional deaths.