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December 11, 2017

Will any state really start conducting executions with opioids?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy Washington Post article, headlined "States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids." Here is how it gets started:

The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.

As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.

States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions. The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this spring as a backup method — something no state or country has tried. Officials have yet to say whether it would be delivered in a gas chamber or through a gas mask. Other states have passed laws authorizing a return to older methods, such as the firing squad and the 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.”

Supporters of capital punishment blame critics for the crisis, which comes amid a sharp decline in the number of executions and decreasing public support for the death penalty. States have put 23 inmates to death in 2017 — the second-fewest executions in more than a quarter-century. Nineteen states no longer have capital punishment, with a third of those banning it in the past decade.

“If death penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates’ pain, they would help reopen the supply,” said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates for the rights of crime victims. Opponents “caused the problem we’re in now by forcing pharmaceuticals to cut off the supply to these drugs. That’s why states are turning to less-than-optimal choices.”

Prison officials in Nevada and Nebraska have declined to answer questions about why they chose to use fentanyl in their next executions, which could take place in early 2018. Many states cloak their procedures in secrecy to try to minimize legal challenges. But fentanyl offers several advantages. The obvious one is potency. The synthetic drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

“There’s cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, that they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone,” said Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College who has studied the death penalty for more than four decades.

Another plus with fentanyl: It is easy to obtain. Although the drug has rocketed into the news because of the opioid crisis, doctors frequently use it to anesthetize patients for major surgery or to treat severe pain in patients with advanced cancer. Nevada officials say they had no problem buying fentanyl. “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.”

Notably, Nevada has not had an execution since 2006 and Nebraska has not had an execution from 1997, and that reality leads me to question whether these states are likely to be conducting opioid-based executions anytime soon. But, as the Post article details, Nevada was fully geared up for a fentanyl-included execution last month before a court intervened, and they may have plans for another execution early in 2018.

December 11, 2017 at 02:44 PM | Permalink


Ironic. You hear about this in the Comments, with a stunning analysis, and several legal and clinical points not mentioned here. A bunch of lawyer abuse ensues, and requests to stop posting.

Now, it is said by Libtard, hate speech, propaganda, homosexual agenda promoting false news rag. And, it is a prominent post.

Posted by: David Behar | Dec 11, 2017 7:06:46 PM

There was a lot of misinformation in the article, as detailed.

In a message dated 12/10/2017 4:08:35 PM Central Standard Time, [email protected] writes:

to: My standard WashPost and NY Times email group, as well as Media throughout Texas
        Many others

re:   'States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.', WashPost, 12/9/2017

From: Dudley Sharp, death penalty expert.

You had some errors and omissions.

The real world and scientific evidence is, overwhelming, that fentanyl will lead to peaceful executions - the opposite of the statement in your piece -  and the only reason anti death penalty folks, inclusive of physicians, oppose it, as with nitrogen gas.

Look up the accidental overdosing properties of  fentanyl (20,100 deaths - 2016)  then call an a anesthesiologist - not an anti death penalty anesthesiologist - and ask what happens when you inject 10 times the lethal dose.

You write: "Many states cloak their procedures in secrecy to try to minimize legal challenges."

It is a well known that secrecy efforts have initiated an additional avenue for legal challenges.

The secrecy is to allow the states to acquire the drugs necessary for executions from suppliers, so that those suppliers will not be harassed by anti death penalty folks, not to minimize legal challenges, as your linked story confirms.

It seems neither the writers, nor Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor fact checked Dennis McGuires or Josecph Wood's "horrifying deaths".  Fact checking confirms, McGuire's and Wood's  executions were no such thing (1).

A huge percentage of the "The bad publicity", as with this article, is because journalists refuse to fact check (1) and/or use only anti death penalty sources, often media, without pro death penalty balance. It's the norm.

Lockett's horrible execution had nothing to do with the drugs, but a, totally, incompetent execution team (1).

You write:  "critics note, there is almost no scientific research to suggest that nitrogen would be more humane." As about 99% of lethal injections are humane (1), that may be true .

The scientific effect of nitrogen gas, when inhaled by humans, is very well known, with the only known "problem" being that euphoria may be experienced, prior to unconsciousness (2).

1)  Rebuttal: Botched Executions 

2)   Nitrogen Gas; Flawless, peaceful, unrestricted method of execution

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Dec 12, 2017 12:17:16 PM

Light up a joint and enjoy your next execution, DAB

Posted by: anon | Dec 12, 2017 12:30:37 PM

Little Dudù is disgusting as Always.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Dec 14, 2017 2:59:02 PM

Claudio. Va funculo, stronzo.

Posted by: David Behar | Dec 15, 2017 1:22:35 AM

It is "vaffanculo", not "va fanculo", you idiot!!!!

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Dec 15, 2017 5:05:13 AM

Claudio. In the US, we improved the saying to, "bahfungoul" or "fungoul". Do you get to watch the Sopranos, one of the best TV shows ever, from HBO, in the States? In every subject it addresses, it has great technical accuracy. One of its features is the near total irrelevance of the police to a criminal enterprise. They are like an occasional nuisance. They take years to investigate. The Mafia plays the system well. A juror is with his son in a convenience store. Two thugs go up to him, and say, "We appreciate what your are doing for the community. We insist on paying for your son's candy bar." He understands, the mob has his number. The jury ends up with a single hold out and a hung jury.

Opinion of the Sopranos, a bunch of serial killers, operating nearly free of police interference. The show is based on very real life people.

Posted by: David Behar | Dec 15, 2017 10:25:47 AM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB