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Human health risks of conducted electrical weapon exposure: a systematic review.

Baliatsas, C., Gerbecks, J., Dückers, M.L.A., Yzermans, C.J. Human health risks of conducted electrical weapon exposure: a systematic review. JAMA Network Open: 2021, 4(2), p. e2037209.
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Conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) are used broadly as a less-lethal force option for police officers. However, there is no clear picture of the possible health risks in humans on the basis of rigorously assessed scientific evidence from the international peer-reviewed literature.

To synthesize and systematically evaluate the strength of published evidence for an association between exposure to different models of CEWs and adverse acute as well as chronic conditions.

Evidence review
Following a preregistered review protocol, the literature search strategy was based on a search of reviews published between January 1, 2000, and April 24, 2020, of PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Web of Science, PsycINFO, and Cochrane Library, as well as relevant online databases and bibliographic sources, such as reference sections of recent publications. The identified studies were independently assessed in terms of scope, relevance, methodologic bias, and quality. Peer-reviewed publications of human studies were included, using original data and with a focus on the use of taser CEWs in the context of law enforcement. Eligible studies examined clearly defined health outcomes as dependent variables following exposure to a CEW. The review followed the relevant sections of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses reporting guideline. A meta-analysis could not be conducted.

Of the 1081 unique records screened, 33 relevant studies were identified, all of them of experimental design and conducted in the US. Eleven studies had a low risk of bias and 22 had a higher bias risk. Studies focused on outcomes such as physiologic stress responses, heart rate, blood pressure, arrhythmias, or cognitive performance. Independently of bias risk, the studies reported few or no acute health problems, apart from the wounds caused by the darts. Furthermore, no long-term outcomes were studied. Most of the studies were performed on healthy, physically fit individuals (eg, police officers) in a controlled setting, with short exposure duration (5 seconds). Half of the studies, mainly those with a higher risk of bias, were at least partly funded by the manufacturer.

Conclusions and relevance
Based on the findings of the reviewed studies, the risk for adverse health outcomes due to CEW exposure can be currently estimated as low. However, most of the reviewed studies had methodologic limitations. Considering that recruited participants were not representative of the population that usually encounters a CEW deployment, it is not possible to draw conclusions regarding exposure outcomes in potentially vulnerable populations or high-risk groups, such as those under the influence of substances.