First developed in 1970 by John Cover, the "Thomas A. Swift's Electrical Rifle," or Taser (8-10), is a small hand-held, battery-powered device allowing the transmission of pulsed high-voltage shocks to a person along fine wires fired from the front of the unit. This shock incapacitates the victim, allowing further restraint. Onset is almost instant, providing the circuit is completed from Taser to target with an accurate weapon discharge. Either compressed nitrogen or a rifle primer acts as a propellant to fire two barbs from the front of the unit to the skin or clothing of the individual requiring restraint. The barbs remain attached to the unit by lengths of wire to a maximum range in some units of 6.4 m. As the range increases, so does the separation between the barbs at impact. This increased separation gives more effect from the 50,000-V shocks as more muscle groups are affected. The barbs are not barbed like a fish hook but only have small projections on them.

The generalized involuntary muscular contractions produced by the Taser result in victims falling in a semicontrolled fashion. There is a potential for injuries depending on the exact nature of the fall, but normally, recovery is prompt and uneventful. The barbs penetrate bare skin to a depth of just more than 0.5 cm, giving some punctate wounds and surrounding erythema after electrical discharge. In the target areas of the torso and legs, there are few complications, but a direct hit on the eye could cause a penetrating injury, requiring urgent specialist assessment, and superficial blood vessels elsewhere could be punctured. The barbs themselves are easily withdrawn from the tissues.

Taser usage has been associated with fatalities, although the exact cause is not known. Nearly all who died in one study either had taken drugs (phen-cyclidine, amphetamine, or cocaine), had heart disease (that may only be found postmortem) or had other contributing injuries. Death was delayed for up to 30 min after Taser use, but it should be noted that the Tasers used in this study were using lower energy levels than those in current usage.

Just as those suffering from extreme agitation need careful consideration when in custody, individuals who have been agitated or unwell at the time of

Taser use should have their acid-base balance checked. Taser use could exacerbate an already disturbed acid-base balance by increasing skeletal muscle activity and predispose to the development of ventricular arrhythmias. This would be especially true in the presence of stimulants.

Taser is being tested in a few United Kingdom police forces to be used by firearms-trained officers, and it seems likely to be issued nationally. In the United States, it has decreased in use since mace oleoresin capsicum sprays became widely issued because the latter appeared more effective. Tasers are available in parts of Australia to specialist officers and also subject to review of their effectiveness. More research on the medical effects of Taser usage will no doubt be forthcoming over time.

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