What is midazolam?

In short, midazolam is used to relieve anxiety before a surgery by causing sleepiness or drowsiness. It is used only under the watchful eye of a physician to monitor the patient’s heart rate and other important levels of care. Certain doses may cause unconsciousness. This amount of midazolam is most commonly used for patients in the intensive care unit.

Oklahoma is no stranger to the drug.

Neither are death row inmates Richard E. Glossip, John M. Grant and Benjamin R. Cole.

The three men argued that the use of the drug midazolam for the death penalty violates the 8th amendment.

They fear midazolam is “cruel and unusual” because it is not strong enough to leave them unconscious during execution, which could cause unnecessary pain.

Their lawyer, Robin C. Konrad, says this drug “can never maintain the deep coma-like unconsciousness that is necessary to prevent a prisoner from feeling the painful effects of the other drugs in the death penalty protocol.”

The drug is used to replace sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, which are lethal injection ingredients used for the death penalty.

The replacement of these drugs has not been a peaceful transition. Arizona inmate Joseph Wood was given midazolam as part of his execution in 2014. The drug made headlines because Wood suffered from choking and gagging for 2 hours before passing.

Executions in Oklahoma were put on hold while the court made a decision. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the justices majority decision that the inmates could not prove “demonstrated risk of severe pain” from the drug.

On July 29, 2015, the Supreme Court gave the “OK” to use midazolam in future executions. The conclusion that usage of the drug is not cruel and unusual was a 5-4 decision.

The Supreme Court’s stance on the matter quickly resolved confusion on the subject: “Challenges to lethal injection protocols test the boundaries of the authority and competency of federal courts, which should not embroil themselves in ongoing scientific controversies beyond their expertise.”
The Solicitor General of Oklahoma said the state’s current protocol “does not present a substantial risk of severe pain and cannot be considered cruel.”

According to a CNN/ORC poll, 70% of Americans do not consider the death penalty to be “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Last year, 35 people were executed nationwide, 3 of them in Oklahoma.

112 people have been executed in Oklahoma since 1976.

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