Nevada to execute inmate with fentanyl in U.S. first

LAS VEGAS – Critics are warning about the “very real risk of a botched execution” in what is to be the first U.S. case of capital punishment using fentanyl.

With manufacturers unwilling to sell any drugs to be used in executions, Nevada’s Department of Corrections quietly purchased small doses of fentanyl from Cardinal Health over several months and plans to use the prescription painkiller in combination with paralytic drug cisatracurium and sedative midazolam in the state’s first execution in 12 years, scheduled for Wednesday, per the Guardian and Vice.

Critics, however, are putting up a fuss, and not only due to the secretive way officials went about acquiring the drug. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid well known for its role in the opioid epidemic, has “never been used in an execution before. It’s extremely experimental,” as Amy Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union puts it.

Especially concerning is the fact that the fentanyl will be mixed with midazolam, which “has been at the center of executions that have gone visibly wrong in every single state in which it has been used,” says Maya Foa of anti-death penalty group Reprieve. She tells the Guardian execution strategies are normally reviewed by courts through inmate appeals.

Not so in this case, as double murderer Scott Dozier—convicted of second-degree murder in 2005 and first-degree murder in 2007—accepts his fate and says he wants to die.

[According to the Associated Press, a drug company, New Jersey-based Alvogen, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in state court in Las Vegas declaring that Nevada prison officials illegally obtained the sedative midazolam, and demanding it be returned and not used as the first of three drugs in Dozier’s execution.

“Midazolam is not approved for use in such an application,” the document said, adding uses of midazolam in other states “have been extremely controversial and have led to widespread concern that prisoners have been exposed to cruel and unusual treatment.”

It was not immediately clear if the filing would stop the execution scheduled at Ely State Prison, 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Las Vegas. Clark County District Court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said the company would also need to file with Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez a request for a court order to halt the proceeding.]

It’s unclear if there’s enough opposition to stave off the execution, though the ACLU is looking into the legality of how Nevada obtained the fentanyl. But if it goes ahead, Gov. Brian Sandoval “is in danger of creating the very black market he is trying to eliminate,” pharmaceutical expert Donald Downing argues at the Reno Gazette Journal.

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