Fentanyl Used in Lethal Injection for the First Time

Fentanyl used in lethal injection for the first time.

The synthetic opioid that has been a primary driver of national overdoses hit another milestone yesterday in Nebraska. For the first time ever, fentanyl was used in a drug cocktail to end the life an inmate. The prisoner was 60-year-old Carey Dean Moore, the first inmate to be executed in the state in over 20 years. Moore’s death comes after Nebraska’s reinstatement of the death penalty following a year-long ban. He was on death row for 38 years after killing Omaha cab drivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland in 1979. Fentanyl was used alongside three other drugs in Moore’s execution, two of which were at the center of a recent lawsuit in which manufacturers unsuccessfully tried to block the state from using their products in executions.

A New Era in Capital Punishment?

The idea to use opioids in state-sanctioned executions was introduced late last year when Nebraska and Nevada started pushing for fentanyl-assisted lethal injection. It arose primarily because many states are having a hard time procuring the drugs that are commonly used in executions. This scarcity is largely due to an unwillingness from drug makers to be associated with capital punishment. Resistance to the measure predictably included general opponents of the death penalty, but also from doctors who see the practice as dangerous and inhumane. One of the primary arguments from opponents was that the untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful or botched executions. A strong enough dose of fentanyl will stop breathing and heart  rate.

A Rebranding of Fentanyl?

If the dangers and potency of fentanyl were ever in doubt, perhaps the image of it as a drug that is literally used to facilitate and hasten death will put these doubts to bed. This is the first-ever opioid to be used for the purpose of intentionally ending a life. While this revelation may seem like enough of a deterrent, it remains to be seen whether or not it will help decrease overdose rates. Nearly half of all opioid overdoses involve fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to data the National Institute on Drug Abuse.