Some drugs obtained for the first lethal injection in Nevada since 2006 will expire before the state Supreme Court decides whether to approve their use, officials said Friday.
The sedative diazepam that the state has expires May 1, and Nevada Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Santina said the agency may not be able to get more.
"In 2016, we sent out a bid to 247 vendors to provide us the drugs to carry out an execution in Nevada," Santina said. "We received not one response."
The state last year obtained diazepam, commonly known as Valium, along with supplies of fentanyl, the powerful opioid painkiller and the muscle paralytic drug cisatracurium from its regular pharmaceutical distributor, Cardinal Health.
The high court this week set a May 8 date for oral arguments about whether prison officials can use the never-before-tried three-drug mixture for the execution of Scott Raymond Dozier.
The 47-year-old twice-convicted murderer has said he wants to die and doesn't really care if the process is painful.
Oral arguments will come five months after Nevada prison officials and the state attorney general asked for a fast-track review, saying the drugs would expire.
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The seven justices are not expected to make an immediate decision, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said. Most rulings take several months — putting even more of the state supply of lethal injection drugs at risk.
Batches of cisatracurium, the disputed drug at the center of the Supreme Court case, begin expiring April 1, Santina said.
The last batch expires Nov. 30. But the supply of the paralytic is due to drop Aug. 31 below the amount called-for in the lethal injection procedure, or protocol, drawn up last year by state prison and health officials.
That protocol has the paralytic administered last, to prevent muscle movement and ensure that breathing stops, after high doses of diazepam and then fentanyl, the synthetic opioid blamed for overdose deaths nationwide.
Fentanyl in the state prisons supply expires in June 2021, Santina said.
The Supreme Court challenge comes from federal public defenders who argue that Dozier could be "awake and aware" for several minutes while suffering and suffocating to death.
Dozier's scheduled execution was called off last November after state court Judge Jennifer Togliatti in Las Vegas decided prison officials could use the first two drugs, which an expert medical witness testified would probably be enough to cause death.
Togliatti balked at the paralytic, citing concerns that its effect would "mask" or prevent witnesses from seeing indications of pain if Dozier suffers.
Nevada is among U.S. states that have struggled in recent years to find drugs after pharmaceutical companies and distributors banned their use in executions.
It was not clear if the Cardinal Health knew the intended use of the drugs it supplied to Nevada. The state last year refused pharmaceutical company Pfizer's demand to return the diazepam and fentanyl it manufactured.
While diazepam is offered in pill form to condemned inmates ahead of executions in some states, none of the three drugs that Nevada proposes to use has been used for injection executions in the 31 states with capital punishment, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.