For the first time in US history, fentanyl, the controversial drug at the center of the country’s opioid epidemic, was used to execute a convicted murderer. The execution was Nebraska’s first since 1997 and took place Tuesday, August 14, at the State Penitentiary.
Carey Dean Moore, 60, was convicted of killing two cab drivers nearly 40 years ago, reports the Omaha World-Herald. According to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Moore was given a combination of four drugs, the first of which was administered at 10.24am, and was pronounced dead 23 minutes later. The Associated Press reports that Nebraska protocol calls first for Diazepam, also known as Valium, to be administered through an IV to leave the inmate unconscious. A powerful opioid called fentanyl is then administered, followed by Cisatracurium besylate to induce paralysis and prevent breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
In addition to fentanyl, diazepam and cisatracurium have never been used in an execution before.
Last week, a Germany-based pharmaceutical drug company tried to stop the execution, alleging the state illegally manufactured at least one of their drugs and claiming that allowing the execution to happen would damage its reputation. The state of Nevada deliberated carrying out an execution using fentanyl in combination with two other drugs, but ultimately a judge shot it down, ruling that Nevada illegitimately acquired one of the drugs. In Nebraska, a federal judge denied the company’s request, saying it was in the state’s best interest to continue the execution and, because prison officials had not disclosed the supplier, did not intentionally expose the pharmaceutical company.
Moore took “short, gasping breaths that became deeper and more labored. His chest heaved several times before it went still. His eyelids briefly cracked open,” reports The Associated Press. According to witness statements, he remained mostly still during the process before breathing heavily and turning red and then purple.
The use of pharmaceutical drugs in Moore’s execution could set a precedent for executions going forward and sparks contentions as the country faces an opioid epidemic. Accidental opioid deaths reached an all-time high last year with more than 37,000 deaths.
Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) Scott R. Frakes said his agency acted with “professionalism, respect for the process, and dignity for all involved.” There are currently 11 death row inmates in Nebraska, according to the Omaha World-Herald.