Human Health Risks of Conducted Electrical Weapon Exposure

Baliatsas C, Gerbecks J, Dückers MLA, Yzermans CJ. Human Health Risks of Conducted Electrical Weapon Exposure: A Systematic Review. JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Feb 1;4(2):e2037209. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.37209. PMID: 33576818; PMCID: PMC7881359.

Key Points


What are the health risks associated with exposure to an electrical weapon?


This systematic review of 33 studies on use of conducted electrical weapons found no evidence that electrical weapon exposure is associated with adverse health outcomes. However, most of the existing studies recruited healthy and physically fit individuals and had important methodologic limitations.


It is unlikely that the existing evidence constitutes a good representation of real-life field situations.


Based on currently published evidence in the peer-reviewed literature, the risk for adverse health outcomes associated with CEW exposure may be estimated as low, when the same deployment guidelines are applied as in the studies. However, it is not possible to draw conclusions about the extent to which the existing evidence constitutes a good representation of real-life field situations. For this reason, and until further data are available from more methodologically sound studies, it is recommended to follow the precautionary principle, when applicable. By systematically evaluating the health effects of CEW use in daily policing practice (physical as well as mental), it will become clear to what extent the results reported in this review apply to real-life  conditions. The involvement of a physician or nurse in the health evaluation of cases in which a CEW was used and the development of a health care database in which the associated health outcomes would be routinely registered would provide further insight into the possible health impact of CEWs, especially for potential at-risk groups.


Amnesty International as well as Reuters news agency6,7 have pointed out the possible dangers associated with CEWs for vulnerable groups. Reuters has created a database with possible deaths due to CEW use mostly in the US based on media reports, self-report by the operator of the CEW, and, in a minority of cases, an autopsy report.7 In 163 of these cases, the autopsy report confirmed that CEW was the cause of death or one of the contributing factors.56 In many cases death occurred in people who were under the influence of drugs.56 In the literature, exposure to CEWs has rarely been  been documented as the sole cause of death; in several articles, a CEW was reported as a possible contributing factor in a number of mortality cases, when long-term and/or repetitive exposure was combined with drug use or cardiovascular disease (appendix 5 in the Supplement). Based on the current literature, it is not possible to state that there is a direct negative effect of CEW exposure on the health of vulnerable groups; at the same time, it has not been scientifically substantiated that use of a CEW on these groups is safe

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