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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…

Arkansas death penalty drug expiring before use

Court OKs execution but requires wait; AG won't ask for a rush

1 of Arkansas' execution drugs will expire before a court decision upholding the state's execution law goes into effect, and might be impossible to replace.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday that she will not ask the state's Supreme Court to expedite finalizing its Thursday ruling that upheld Arkansas' execution secrecy law and drug protocol. The executions of 8 people are waiting for that ruling.

Generally, rulings are final 18 days after opinions are issued. Without the attorney general's request, the ruling takes effect July 11 - days after the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic the state uses in executions, expires.

"After careful consideration and analysis, the attorney general has decided not to seek an expedited mandate from the court. But once the court issues the mandate, the attorney general is fully prepared to ask the governor to set execution dates to see that justice is served," said Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere.

After the mandate is issued, the stays on the 8 executions would be lifted. But with 1 of the 3 drugs expiring June 30 and the supplier telling the state it would not provide more, it was unclear when the state could resume executions.

Solomon Graves, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said he would not speculate about what will happen after the supply of the paralytic expires. Deere said Thursday that the attorney general's office would not advise the Department of Correction to use expired drugs.

The inmates' attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, said he did not have a comment on the attorney general's decision. He said he still plans to file a petition with the court asking for a rehearing before the mandate is issued.

The court ruled Thursday in a 4-3 decision that the state's 3-drug protocol and the law that allows Arkansas to keep its source of drugs confidential are constitutional. The inmates had argued that Arkansas' execution secrecy law could lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the state reneged on a pledge to share information.

But the high court said that a lower court "erred in ruling that public access to the identity of the supplier of the 3 drugs (the Arkansas Department of Correction) has obtained would positively enhance the functioning of executions in Arkansas. As has been well documented, disclosing the information is actually detrimental to the process."

The inmates argued that without disclosure of the source and other information they had no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride would lead to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates also argued that the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. The court agreed with the state that the agreement is not a binding contract.

Attorneys for the state said at least 5 other courts have ruled that the three drugs used in Arkansas' protocol are acceptable, including the sedative midazolam. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma's use of midazolam last year.

Source: Associated Press, June 24, 2016

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