Lethal Injection Drugs May Soon Include Fentanyl In Some States Amid Controversy

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Lethal Injection Drugs May Soon Include Fentanyl In Some States Amid Controversy

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid now believed related to thousands of deaths across the United States is currently being considered for use in lethal injection drugs for inmates.

Both Nevada and Nebraska are planning to supply fentanyl to prisons to execute prisoners. Some detractors of the idea, however, deem the move to be nothing short of a dangerous experimentation on human lives.

Fentanyl is a drug up to 50 times more powerful than heroin that is used in clinical settings for general anesthesia. In recent years, its presence in illicit drugs has increased, as it is inexpensive to make and a tiny amount can go a long way.

States are looking at the use of fentanyl primarily due to a shortage of drugs traditionally used to execute inmates. This lack of supply has been going on for years, as many major laboratories will not stock prisons to avoid negative PR.

Lethal injection drugs usually consist of three substances. One induces a coma, the second causes paralysis, and the third stops the heart from beating. In several executions, however, the drugs did not render the soon-to-be-executed unconscious, resulting in terrible suffering before death.

Just last month, Ohio had to halt the execution of a convict after officers were unable to locate a vein. In general, controversies such as this have contributed to a slower pace of executions in the U.S., according to a report released last week by the Death Penalty Information Center.

As lethal as fentanyl can be, still, there is no guarantee that the execution will not be botched in some way.

An anonymous source reported being sedated with fentanyl for an operation to insert a chest tube for a collapsed lung. She said “I woke up in the middle and could feel everything. It was horrible. I was trying to pull the tube and stop the operation.”

So far in 2017, just 23 executions were performed in the United States, the second lowest since 1991 and considerably lower than 98 executions that occurred near the turn of the century. Only eight states carried out executions, although 31 states allow the death penalty.

The year is expected to end with 39 total death sentences, again the lowest number since the death penalty was declared unconstitutional in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court – a decision that was overturned in 1976.

Just over half (55%) of Americans support the death penalty, the lowest percentage in more than four decades.  And unfortunately, the injection controversies are compelling some states to consider a return to the electric chair or employ other methods of execution.

Indeed, this past spring Mississippi sparked debate when nitrogen gas chambers were legalized for use when lethal injections were not possible.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology



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