Nevada Execution on Hold After Company Objects to Use of its Drug

Nevada Execution on Hold After Company Objects to Use of its Drug

Nevada is set to become the first state to use the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl in an execution.

A federal judge has called a hearing just hours before the killing is due to take place to listen to a demand by the drug manufacturer Alvogen for a block on the use of its sedative, midazolam, in putting to death Scott Dozier for murder.

The midazolam would be used to sedate Dozier before he is killed using fentanyl, a drug at the forefront of the USA opioid epidemic that was also allegedly obtained illicitly. This is the first time a drug company has successfully sued to halt an execution, according to the Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for Nevada Department of Corrections, Brooke Santina, told the Reno Gazette Journal the agency would not comment on the pending litigation.

This is the second lawsuit of its kind in the US from a pharmaceutical company, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks data about the death penalty and has criticized the way capital punishment is administered in America.

Midazolam is the subject of a legal challenge, as the drug company Alvogen alleged in a court filing Tuesday that Nevada illegitimately acquired the product for the execution.

Pharmaceutical companies have resisted the use of their drugs in executions for 10 years, citing legal and ethical concerns.

Dozier's execution was stayed last November at the request of the Nevada Department of Corrections after a judge blocked the state from using cisatracurim in a newly devised and untested three-drug combination to carry out the death penalty.

The drugs were ordered from one of the US's largest pharmaceutical distribution companies, Cardinal Health, which is among wholesalers facing a barrage of lawsuits accusing them of profiteering from the opioid epidemic by delivering vast quantities of prescription painkillers to small pharmacies and ignoring evidence they were being used by people addicted to the drugs.

Alvogen said that Nevada law is clear that it is an offence to obtain a controlled drug "by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, subterfuge or alteration".

Fentanyl, which has been blamed for deadly overdoses across the country, has not been used before in an execution.

Alvogen said in a statement that it was pleased with the ruling and will continue to work through the legal system to ensure its products are not used in executions.

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Midazolam was substituted in May for expired prison stocks of diazepam, a similar sedative commonly known as Valium.

Jordan T. Smith, an assistant Nevada solicitor general, countered at Wednesday's hearing that the state didn't put up a "smokescreen" or do anything wrong in getting the drugs. Earlier that year, another inmate, Clayton Lockett, had been injected with midazolam, but instead of becoming unconscious, he twitched, convulsed and spoke.

"Life in prison isn't a life", the 47-year-old told the Review-Journal. Under Nevada's new execution protocol, the inmate is next given fentanyl and then cisatracurium, one to slow his breathing, the other to stop it.

In court hearings and letters, he said there is a limit to how much artwork and exercise a person can do in prison.

In 2005, Dozier was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the shooting and mauling of 26-year-old Jasen Greene, whose body was found in 2002 in a shallow grave outside Phoenix.

Dozier was sentenced to death in 2007 for robbing, killing and dismembering 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller at a Las Vegas motel in 2002.

His decapitated torso was found in a suitcase. A witness there testified that Dozier used a sledgehammer to break Greene's limbs so the corpse would fit in a plastic tote that Dozier used to transport methamphetamine, equipment and chemicals.

The lawsuit names the director of Nevada's department of corrections, James Dzurenda, and the state's chief medical officer, Dr Ihsan Azzam, as conspiring to buy the midazolam along with an unidentified doctor who will participate in the execution.

Although Dozier dropped attempts to save his own life, he allowed federal public defenders to challenge the execution protocol.

It's unclear if there's enough opposition to stave off the execution, though the ACLU is looking into the legality of how Nevada obtained the fentanyl.

The drug was used in the execution of Joseph Wood in 2014, who took almost two hours to die, and led Arizona to stop using midazolam.

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