US Supreme Court backs use of contentious execution drug

The US Supreme Court has upheld the use of a contentious drug used in executions, saying it does not violate a ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling is a setback to opponents of the death penalty, who say midazolam is not suitable for lethal injections.

The drug raised concerns after it was used in executions in three US states in 2014 that took longer than usual.

Executions have been delayed recently in the US amid problems buying drugs as many firms have refused to sell them.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, handed a loss to three inmates who said the sedative could not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.

But judges ruled that the inmates did not prove that midazolam was cruel and unusual when compared to known and available alternatives.

Several US states turned to midazolam when European manufacturers stopped supplying sodium thiopental to US prisons because of an EU ban on the sale of products used in lethal injections.

The shortage of various drugs used by the 32 US states that still have capital punishment led to some reintroducing other controversial methods, such as the gas chamber and firing squad.

The BBC’s Gary O’Donoghue in Washington says Monday’s ruling should make it easier for states to continue using a lethal drug cocktail to carry out death sentences.

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