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Nebraska Becomes the First State to Use Fentanyl for a Lethal Injection

Officials in Nebraska used fentanyl to execute a death row inmate on Tuesday, marking the first time the powerful opioid has been used to carry out the death penalty in the United States. It was also the state's first execution in more than two decades.

Just three years ago, legislators in Nebraska briefly outlawed the death penalty. After a failed attempt to veto the ban on capital punishment, Governor Pete Ricketts threw his support behind a ballot measure giving Nebraska voters a chance to overturn the ban, and, in 2016, voters reinstated the death penalty.

Death penalty states have been scrambling for years to find new drugs for lethal injection, after a series of botched executions and mounting scrutiny of the standard protocol led to drug shortages. This week, Nebraska used a novel four-drug cocktail to execute Carey Dean Moore, 60, who was convicted of killing two taxi drivers in 1979. Moore did not try to block his execution, but two drug companies did, arguing in federal court that it would damage their reputation to have their products used for capital punishment. But prison officials would not identify the drugs' suppliers, so the companies could not prove that their drugs would be used.

Eleven men remain on Nebraska's death row, and the state has a narrow window to carry out executions before the state's supply of some of the drugs used in the cocktail begin to expire.