Posted by: Chris Maloney | November 14, 2011

TASER: What Is the Safety of Shocking?

University of Florida police attempt to escort...

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If it wasn’t already obvious, the TASER has entered into daily use.  Officers across the nation love the ability to incapacitate, and it’s safe.  But how safe?

Here’s a nice little blurb from a recent CBS piece:  “Police have tased nearly one and a half million suspects. According to Amnesty International 485 have died afterwards.”  Safer than being shot, but not without risk.

The most remembered phrase of 2007 was:  “Don’t Tase me, Bro!”

The Don’t Tase Me Bro 60 minutes response say it was totally appropriate.

So what are the effects of multiple TASER events?  Well, if they get you in the eye, that’s an injury.  If you have multiple events, we do not have any medical studies that show whether the events are safe or are not.

According to the manufacterer, the device is completely safe.  We have the creation of a syndrome,  excited delirium, to explain away the deaths after TASER use.  But interestingly, increased body temperature seems to be a common factor.  Without definitive, long-term studies, it is inappropriate to assume safety.  Recall that we used to use x-rays to look at shoe fit before we found it wasn’t a good idea.

Ann Emerg Med. 2011 Aug;58(2):178-88. Epub  2011 May 5.

Electronic control device exposure: a review of morbidity and mortality.


Emergency Service, University Hospital Centre, Lausanne, Switzerland.


The use of electronic control devices has expanded worldwide during the last few years, the most widely used model being the Taser. However, the scientific knowledge about electronic control devices remains limited. We reviewed the medical literature to examine the potential implications of electronic devices in terms of morbidity and mortality, and to identify and evaluate all the existing experimental human studies. A single exposure of an electronic control device on healthy individuals can be assumed to be generally safe, according to 23 prospective human experimental studies and numerous volunteer exposures. In case series, however, electronic control devices could have deleterious effects when used in the field, in particular if persons receive multiple exposures, are intoxicated, show signs of “excited delirium,” or present with medical comorbidities. As the use of electronic control devices continues to increase, the controversy about its safety, notably in potentially high-risk individuals, is still a matter of debate. The complications of electronic control device exposure are numerous but often recognizable, usually resulting from barbed dart injuries or from falls. Persons exposed to electronic control devices should therefore be fully examined, and traumatic lesions must be ruled out.

Copyright © 2011 American College of Emergency Physicians. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

PMID:  21546120
J Forensic Leg Med. 2011 May;18(4):145-53. Epub  2011 Feb 18.

Pathophysiologic changes due to TASER® devices versus excited delirium: potential relevance to deaths-in-custody?


U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, 711th Human Performance Wing, Human Effectiveness Directorate, Directed Energy Bioeffects Division, 8262 Hawks Road, Brooks City-Base, Texas 78235, USA.


The syndrome of excited delirium has been implicated in some deaths-in-custody which also involved the use of electronic control devices (ECDs) (including those manufactured by TASER International) on subjects. This review is an update on recent studies of pathophysiologic changes related to these two separate but parallel topics: a) first, the use of ECDs during law-enforcement activities; and b) second, the occurrence of excited delirium during such activities. This is a narrative review of elements that may be of use in generating hypotheses relating to potential similarities or differences between the two topics. Differences between changes in most factors due to excited delirium versus those of ECD applications were not readily apparent in most cases. These factors include: direct and indirect effects on the cardiovascular system, respiration, rhabdomyolysis and muscle enzymes, hyperkalemia, acidosis, hyperglycemia, and increased hematocrit. One factor that may exhibit consistent differences, however, is increased body temperature, which is often evident during excited delirium (versus a lack of increase temperature during ECD exposures). Thus, on the basis of this review, a more detailed delineation of this factor could be a major focus for future forensic investigations of deaths-in-custody involving either excited delirium or ECD exposures.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd and Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine. All rights reserved.

PMID: 21550562



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