• Alex M. Houchin

Execution Drugs Could Save Lives Instead


Drugs being stockpiled by states for use in execution protocols could instead be used to save lives in the battle against COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the novel coronavirus.


Last week, a coalition of seven medical experts sent a letter to the directors of state corrections departments in all states with the death penalty still on the books, including Nebraska. In the letter, the experts explain that the very sedatives and paralytics currently being hoarded by death penalty states for use in execution are badly needed in the fight against coronavirus, especially during the processes of intubation and mechanical ventilation for those patients hit hardest by the illness.


The medical experts stated that there is a dire shortage of the drugs midazolam, vecuronium bromide, rocuronium bromide, and fentanyl, all of which play a central role in most states' lethal injection protocols. Midazolam and fentanyl in particular are already being rationed, they say, and other drugs (cisatracurium besylate and etomidate) are also in high demand for the administration of intubation and mechanical ventilation.


"These medicines were never made or developed to cause death - to the contrary, many were formulated to connect patients to life-saving ventilators and lessen the discomfort of intubation," the letter says.


Two of the drugs named in the letter, fentanyl and cisatracurium besylate, are part of Nebraska's lethal injection protocol. Currently, Nebraska and Nevada are the only states listing fentanyl as part of the execution cocktail, though Nebraska holds the dubious distinction of becoming the first and only state to actually carry out an execution using the drug, when Carey Dean Moore was executed on August 14, 2018.


It doesn't make any sense that these precious medications sit uselessly on shelves awaiting use in executions (and potentially expiring) when they could be used right now to prevent suffering and save lives. Therefore, we at Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty call on Governor Ricketts to immediately order the release of the state's lethal injection stockpile to medical facilities facing a shortage - and you can too! Please take a moment to call the Governor's office at (402)471-2244 and tell Gov. Ricketts that these drugs belong on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus, not gathering dust in service of the broken and unjust death penalty system.

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