Should We be Using Fentanyl for Lethal Injections

Should We be Using Fentanyl for Lethal Injections?

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Back in the 1970s, California Governor Ronald Reagan, who would later serve as president, became one of the first public officials[1] to advocate using lethal injections to execute criminals who were on death row. Reagan speculated that the process would be no different than a veterinarian putting down a horse. In the mind of Reagan, a man or woman sentenced to death would go to sleep and never wake up. A range of drugs have been used over the years, and the first use of fentanyl for lethal injections took place in 2018.

The Execution Cocktail

States have never used a single drug to execute condemned criminals. The process has always involved the use of a cocktail of at least three different drugs. The specific drugs have varied across states and across time. In general, the first drug administered puts the condemned person to sleep. Other drugs are then used to paralyze and then stop the heart of the condemned. Most states have been reluctant to put inmates to death[2], and this reluctance has grown in recent years. 

While capital punishment IS legal in the state of California, in March 2019[3], Governor Gavin Newsom halted further executions with an official moratorium. 

Within a few months in 2014, prison officials botched two executions[4]. On one occasion, the phlebotomist charged with administering the drugs intravenously failed to find a vein. The condemned inmate died of a heart attack after struggling for several minutes. The other inmate was administered the wrong drug.

Drugmakers have rebelled against the use of their drugs[5] in lethal injections. This action by drug manufacturers has led states to resort to other options for carrying out lethal injections. One of those options that some have suggested is the use of fentanyl, a readily available opioid.

Nebraska Uses Fentanyl

In August 2014, Nebraska became the first state[6] to use fentanyl for lethal injections. The condemned man, Carey Dean Moore, did not attempt to stop his execution. However, two drug companies did because they wanted to avoid the stigma of having their drugs used in executions. The state turned to fentanyl, which is a drug that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

The Dangers of Fentanyl

The fact that a state has used fentanyl for execution should show how potent and deadly the drug can be. Fentanyl is intended for the relief of extreme pain[7], but when used outside of its intended use, it can lead to death.

Over the past few years, there has been a massive spike[8] in the number of deaths attributed to people overdosing on fentanyl. From a relatively small number of fatalities as recently as 2013, the number of deaths tied to an overdose of fentanyl rose to more than 28,400 in 2017. This should not be surprising given the fact that the drug is now a component of an execution cocktail. Even when the drug does not kill, it can bind to opioid receptors[9] in the brain or cause a person’s breathing to slow or stop altogether.

The fentanyl crisis has now reached California[10], and there is a danger that its effects could spread. If you or someone you love has issues with fentanyl addiction, it’s possible to get help. We’re dedicated to assisting people who have problems with addiction, and we strive to provide a holistic approach. In addition to offering a detox program, we also provide individual and group counseling that will support you and your loved ones in your struggle. We’re committed to helping people defeat their dependency on fentanyl, so be sure to contact us today.  

NOTE: While capital punishment IS legal in the state of California, in March 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom halted further executions with an official moratorium. 












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