In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court found that the state of Oklahoma is not in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, by using the controversial drug midazolam during lethal injections. The sedative—which some doctors say doesn’t cause a patient to become fully unconscious—is part of a three-drug mix used by Oklahoma and several other states when traditional lethal injection drugs became more difficult for correction officials to obtain.
The drug was involved in three executions last year—in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona—in which the inmates appeared to experience serious pain and prolonged suffering during their executions. In one case, which lasted 45 minutes, the inmate woke up during the procedure. In another, the prisoner said he felt like he was on fire. Four states have used midazolam as officials experiment with new drug cocktails while other lethal injection chemicals are increasingly short supply.