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States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

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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 s…

Alabama: Court records show pharmacists refused death penalty drugs

At the height of Alabama’s search for lethal injection drugs, state officials were turned down by every pharmacy they contacted for help, according to court records filed Wednesday.

State officials asked every licensed compounding pharmacist in Alabama to make batches of pentobarbital — once the primary drug used to kill inmates — and all refused. Attempts to buy the drug from four other states also failed, court documents state.

Those refusals could point to a rough road ahead for the death penalty, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that cleared another drug, midazolam, for use in executions.

“Alabama’s experience is not at all unique,” said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based group that studies the death penalty. “This is part of the medical community’s rejection of lethal injection as a practice.”

Alabama officials are trying to resume executions by lethal injection after a two-year hiatus caused by legal challenges and shortages of key execution drugs.

Tommy Arthur, condemned to death for the 1980s murder-for-hire of Muscle Shoals resident Troy Wicker, is one of several inmates who have challenged the state’s current approach to execution: injecting an inmate with midazolam to deaden pain, rocuronium to still the muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Midazolam has been used in botched executions in other states, including an Oklahoma execution in 2014 in which it took an inmate more than 30 minutes to die after the drugs were injected. Inmates say the use of midazolam is cruel and unusual, but the U.S. Supreme Court approved its use in an Oklahoma case last summer, seemingly clearing the way for executions in Alabama as well.

Lawyers for the state on Wednesday asked a federal court for a summary judgment that would end Arthur’s appeals and send him to the execution chamber.

But Arthur’s lawyers are trying to flip the script in the case. Before the state adopted midazolam as a death penalty drug, Arthur filed a similar challenge against the use of pentobarbital, Alabama’s main execution drug before 2014. Now that he’s faced with execution by a new drug, Arthur wants to switch back to pentobarbital, a drug he claims is less cruel than midazolam.

Lawyers for the Alabama attorney general’s office say they can’t return to pentobarbital, because no one will sell the drug to the Department of Corrections.

The court documents, among hundreds of pages filed in Arthur’s case last week, shed light on Alabama’s often secretive attempts to obtain drugs for use in lethal injection. Several states have struggled to get their hands on drugs because a growing number of drug suppliers refuse to sell them, citing ethical objections or opposition to capital punishment.


Source: The Anniston Star, Tim Lockette, January 3, 2016

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