Ohio Rep. Wants to Use Fentanyl for State Executions

Rep. Wiggam believes use of fentanyl would be 'less violent' and 'more humane' than alternatives

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As his state struggles to find the drugs required for lethal injection, an Ohio lawmaker wants to use fentanyl seized by the police to execute the state's death row inmates.

Rep. Scott Wiggam (R.) is currently writing, and seeking supporters for, a bill to allow Ohio prison officials to obtain fentanyl from drug busts for executions, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Wiggam told the Enquirer that the use of fentanyl in executions is both "less violent" and "more humane" than the electric chair and recent lethal injection using the controversial drug midazolam.

Wiggam's new proposal comes as the state struggles to find a way to carry out the executions of the 130-odd individuals currently on death row. In January, a federal judge indicated that the state's three-drug protocol for lethal injection might violate the Eighth Amendment. The state scrambled to find an alternative method, but was stymied by concerns that pharmaceutical firms would be unwilling to sell their products for use in an execution.

Last month, Gov. Mike DeWine (R.) said that thanks to the lack of drugs, the state may need to freeze executions entirely. He called on legislative leaders to consider the adoption of other methods, including the electric chair and the firing squad.

Wiggam's proposal would obviate the need to use these older forms of capital punishment. According to the Enquirer, the Ohio police seized more than 108 pounds of fentanyl in 2018 alone, more than enough for execution purposes. The drug, a highly potent opioid narcotic, would necessarily cause a painless death through respiratory depression.

Wiggam told the Enquirer that he thinks the best use of the state legislature’s time is finding a way to carry out the executions currently required by law, not revisiting the tenability of the death penalty as a whole.

"This is certainly a workaround," Wiggam said. "This is something that we know can bring deaths quickly to individuals."

Ohio is not the only state facing a drug shortage, caused largely by foreign pharmaceutical firms' unwillingness to sell their products for use in executions. Tennessee used its electric chair twice last year, while Oklahoma has been experimenting with the use of nitrogen gas hypoxia for a painless execution.

In August, Nebraska, became the first state to execute someone using fentanyl, although it did not obtain the deadly dose from drug busts; Nevada was considering doing the same until the inmate expected to be executed with fentanyl committed suicide.