Julie O'Neill, WCPO
CINCINNATI - An article just published by the American Heart Association's premier journal, "Circulation," presents the first ever scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death.
The article, written by Electrophysiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes of Indiana University, is already generating a buzz among cardiologists in the Cincinnati area, according to Dr. Terri Stewart-Dehner, a cardiologist at Christ Hospital.
"Anyone in cardiology has heard of Dr. Zipes. He is very well respected," said Dr. Stewart-Dehner.
Stewart-Dehner said any article published in "Circulation" has great significance and will be taken very seriously by cardiologists around the world.
"Peer reviewed is a big deal," said Stewart-Dehner. "It means the article goes through a committee just for consideration into the journal. Then cardiologists review the validity of the research; it means it's a reputable article."
The conclusions of Dr. Zipes' article, which looks at eight cases involving the TASER X26 ECD states: "ECD stimulation can cause cardiac electric capture and provoke cardiac arrest resulting from ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation. After prolonged ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation without resuscitation, asystole develops."
To view the abstract of the article, click here or go to http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/recent.
Speaking on behalf of the American Heart Association, Dr. Michael Sayre with Ohio State Emergency Medicine, said, "Dr. Zipes' work is very well respected. It's a credible report. It's a reminder to police officers and others who are using these tools that they need to know how to do CPR and know how to use an AED."
Dr. Zipes has been discounted by the manufacturer of the Taser, Taser International, because he has been paid to testify against the weapon, but Dr. Zipes says the fact that his research has withstood the rigorous process of review by other well-respected cardiologists and was published in this prestigious journal proves his case.
"It is absolutely unequivocal based on my understanding of how electricity works on the heart, based on good animal data and based on numerous clinical situations that the Taser unquestionably can produce sudden cardiac arrest and death," said Dr. Zipes.
Dr. Zipes says he wrote the article, not to condemn the weapon, but to properly warn police officers of its potential to kill so that they can make good policies and decisions as to the proper use of the weapon, and so that they will be attentive to the possible need for medical care following a Taser stun.
The Taser, used by law enforcement agencies across the Tri-State and by some 16,000 law enforcement agencies around the world, was marketed as non-lethal. Since 2001, more than 500 people have died following Taser stuns according to Amnesty International, which said in February that stricter guidelines for its use were "imperative."
In only a few dozen of those cases have medical examiners ruled the Taser contributed to the death.
It was nearly nine months ago 18-year-old Everette Howard of North College Hill died after police used a Taser on him on the University of Cincinnati's campus.
The Hamilton County Coroner's Office has still not released a "cause of death," but the preliminary autopsy results seemed to rule out everything but the Taser. The office is now waiting for results from a heart specialist brought in to review slides of Howard's heart.
The late Coroner Anant Bhati told 9 News in an exclusive interview before he died in February that he had "great respect" for Dr. Zipes and that he too believed the Taser could cause cardiac arrest. He said he just wasn't ready to say that it caused Everette Howard's death until a heart specialist weighed in on the investigation.
Dr. Bhati also agreed with Dr. Zipes that the weapon should come under government supervision and be tested for its electrical output regularly.
Taser International has said that because the Taser uses compressed Nitrogen instead of gun powder to fire its darts, it is not regulated and testing of the weapon is not legally required.
The company also says the Taser fires two darts, which enter a subject's skin and send electricity into the body in order to incapacitate the subject so that officers can get a subject into custody without a physical fight.
Research shows the Taser has saved lives and reduced injuries among officers.
Taser International has changed its safety warnings over the years.
An I-Team report in October showed that Taser International's website stated in its summary conclusion on cardiac safety, "There is no reliable published data that proves Taser ECDs (Tasers) negatively affect the heart."
With the publication of Dr. Zipes' article, Dr. Stewart-Dehner says it can be argued that statement is no longer the case.
The new statement on Taser International's website quotes a May Department of Justice study on deaths following Taser stuns. It states, "While exposure to Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) is not risk free, there is no conclusive medical evidence that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death from the direct effects of CED's (Tasers)."
While our medical advisors haven’t had a chance to review the details, it is noteworthy that the sole author, Dr. Douglas Zipes, has earned more than $500,000 in fees at $1,200 per hour as a plaintiff’s expert witness against TASER and police. Clearly Dr. Zipes has a strong financial bias based on his career as an expert witness, which might help explain why he disagrees with the findings of independent medical examiners with no pecuniary interest in these cases as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s independent study that concluded, "There is currently no medical evidence that CEDs pose a significant risk for induced cardiac dysrhythmia in humans when deployed reasonably" and "The risks of cardiac arrhythmias or death remain low and make CEDs more favorable than other weapons."
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