The US state of Nevada postponed the execution by lethal injection of a murderer with the controversial opioid fentanyl on Wednesday, hours before he was due to die, US media reported.
The execution of Scott Dozier at Ely state prison, near the border with Utah, would have been the first time the potent drug driving the US opioid crisis was used for lethal injection in the US.
But the execution was stopped over plans to use another substance, the sedative midazolam, in the three-drug cocktail after its manufacturer, Alvogen, sued the Nevada state department of corrections.
Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez banned the use of the drug on Wednesday, effectively staying the execution for at least two months.
“The plaintiff has a reasonable probability that it will suffer damages to its business reputation which will impact investor relations and customer relations,” Gonzalez said in her ruling, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Alvogen and the state are scheduled to return to court on September 10 for another hearing in the case.
The firm “does not condone the use of any of its drug products, including midazolam, for use in state sponsored executions” and doesn’t sell directly to the prison system, it said in a statement.
The US Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and a series of botched executions with lethal injections has spurred debate over the constitutionality of this most common method for putting inmates to death.
The resulting shortage of deadly drugs has lasted several years, as several major laboratories refuse to stock US prisons to avoid the bad PR of being associated with the death penalty.
The Review-Journal reported in 2016 that Nevada — which last executed a convict 12 years ago — had run out of at least one drug used in executions and was unable to source replacement stockpiles.
Dozier, who has abandoned the appeals process and repeatedly states his desire to be executed, was convicted of the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, whose torso was found in a suitcase in Las Vegas.
“I think it’s awesome. I mean, it’s killing people all over the place,” the 47-year-old said of fentanyl on HBO’s VICE News Tonight in an interview aired Tuesday.
“You guys get pharmaceutical grade fentanyl and just bang me up man.”
Nevada’s plan to use fentanyl — which killed more than 20 000 people in the US in 2016 —has drawn criticism from medics and activists who call the move a dangerous human experiment.
The drug, which acts as an anesthetic, is 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
The US carried out 23 executions in 2017, its second lowest number since 1991 and a far cry from the 98 executions in 1999.
Just eight states performed the executions, while the death penalty is allowed in 31 states.
© Agence France-Presse