Some states are turning to a main drug in the opioid crisis to execute prisoners

Empty jail cell.
(Image credit: iStockphoto)

A synthetic opioid called fentanyl, which can be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine, is behind tens of thousands of the U.S. deaths last year in the opioid overdose and addiction crisis. Two states, Nevada and Nebraska, have plans to use fentanyl as the key ingredient in a lethal-injection cocktail as soon as January.

Doctors and opponents of capital punishment argue that the states are essentially performing medical experiments on death row inmates. Death penalty supporters blame the critics for the dearth of tested lethal-injection drugs, as pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell those drugs to the 31 states that have capital punishment. Either way, "there's cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, that they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone," Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College, tells The Washington Post.

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