In the news this week, footage was released of Timothy Runnels tasering Bryce Masters and sending him unconscious. The taser was deployed for more than 20 seconds shooting the equivalent of four discharges and caused brain damage to the teen. His brain was deprived of oxygen for 8 minutes.
The politics surrounding Police and overuse of such weapons continues to spark debate, but there’s no debate on the health implications the tasers can have. In 2016 alone, 55 Americans have died by the device. But how much is too much? Taser, the company who makes the device clearly states on its website that a charge beyond 20 seconds is not recommended “Most human CEW lab testing has not exceeded 15 seconds of CEW application“. In 2016, Arizona State University ran a study on 142 test students (who were forbidden from using drugs or alcohol) and found ‘statistically significant reductions’ in memory and learning. But, in prolonged situations such as the Runnels case, things can clearly go wrong.
A standard Taser will send 50,000 volts of electricity into a persons body. While it sounds like a lot, humans conduct their own electricity. Every time the heart beats it is essentially discharging stored energy. In between each heart beat it goes into a brief recovery mode and while a small shock won’t necessarily kill you, the wrong timing can. If you are shocked while the heart is in ‘recovery mode’, this could cause the heart to go into what’s known as ventricular fibrillation. Essentially the first stage of a heart attack.
Here’s what happens to your body when you are shot with a Taser gun.
- The taser gun fires two electrodes into your body. The electrodes do not need to penetrate the flesh to work.
- The electrodes fire 50,000 volts of electricity at 19 shocks a second into your body sending uncoordinated electrical pulses to your brain. The taser has a 5 second auto mode, but can be disabled by the user to deploy charges until the battery dies.
- Due to the number of impulses being received at such a short time, the brain cannot process the information and essentially shuts down.
- The Taser overrides your nervous system, your muscles contract and you’ll be immobilized.
- After a prolonged stun, your heart is erratic and can go into ventricular fibrillation. Which can lead to death.
In 2011, the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit policy and research organization, partnered with the Justice Department to craft new guidelines on their use. Their report specifically cautions against discharging stun guns for extended periods of time.
“Officers must be trained to understand that repeated applications and continuous cycling of ECWs may increase the risk of death or serious injury and should be avoided,” the report reads.
What do you think as a Nurse? Do you have any experience with victims of Taser stuns? Let us know.
*featured image Taser.com