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Jul 24, 2014 9:22 PM by Lupita Murillo

Controversial lethal injection drug also used as pain killer

TUCSON - A drug which is suddenly at the center of a raging debate over lethal injection is also used to comfort dying patients.

This comes in the wake of Wednesday execution. In that case, it took Joseph Wood nearly two hours to die.

He was put death for a double murder in Tucson 25 years ago.

The drug combination is more often used to control pain Midazolam and hydromorphone are used in low doses to control pain and shortness of breath.

Dr. Ann Marie Chiasson, Hospice Physician with Casa de Luz says she uses the drugs about three to five times a year on patients. They use use the two medications in hospice when people have pain that's controllable through oral medications.

"Sometimes we use it at higher doses and put people into a twilight sleep. We call it palliative sedation. It's just for people who are in agony and we can't get their pain under control without putting them in a very twilight sleep state," Chiasson said.

The state used Midazolam, an anesthetic, and hydromorphone, a narcotic painkiller. An overdose of these medications halts breathing and stops the heart from beating. In Wednesday's case, Joseph Wood was declared dead nearly two hours after he received the injection.

"If you don't give a very large dose of the medication it can take some time before it brings the patient into a twilight sleep and i suppose here they tried to bring him from twilight sleep into respiratory depression, so he would stop breathing. That's how someone would die from these two medications," Chiasson said.

Chiasson said she doesn't use these drugs in that manner.

Once I have somebody's pain controlled, we usually give them less of the medication to bring them out of the sedation, so its used very differently in hospice," Chiasson said.


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