Opioids are killing tens of thousands of Americans a year and now the states of Nevada and Nebraska are moving to use the deadly synthetic painkiller fentanyl to execute prisoners on death row, The Washington Post reported.
"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," Amherst College law professor Austin Sarat told the Post.
Fentanyl is not only easier to obtain, but it is also potently effective: "50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine," according to the report.
"We're in a new era," Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno told the Post. "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."
States are forced to use new drugs to kill their death-row inmates "because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions," according to the report.
"The reason we keep looking for something else is because it's not really for the prisoner, it's for the people who have to watch it happen," Denno added. "We don't want to feel squeamish or uncomfortable.
"We don't want executions to look like what they really are: killing someone."
Doctors and death-penalty opponents are fighting plans to use fentanyl-assisted executions because of the potential of inflicting undue pain to the victim. Death-penalty states have authorized returns to the electric chair and the firing squad in recent years.
"If death-penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates' pain, they would help reopen the supply," Criminal Justice Legal Foundation's Kent Scheidegger told the Post. "[They] 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."
Just 23 inmates have been put to death in 2017, the second fewest in more than 25 years, the Post reported.
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