PRESTIGE FOR SALE
TASER International was making A LOT of money a few years back, selling their “non-lethal” devices to police departments and governments around the world.
When company executives saw that TASER stock was about to tumble because people were dying from their “advanced non-lethal devices” — and they were facing a wave of lawsuits — they recruited high-profile cardiologists Richard Luceri from the University of Miami and Hugh Calkins from Johns Hopkins. TASER needed some big names to vouch for the safety of the weapon so they went out and bought them, along with the prestige of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Excerpts from a TASER International press release which was published on PoliceOne.com.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Hugh Calkins, advisor to TASER International and Professor of Medicine and Director of the Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said “After viewing the CBS report on TASER safety based on the Air Force study on pigs, I am appalled at the direct implication that TASER use causes cardiac damage.
Further commenting on the study, Dr. Richard Luceri, MD, advisor to TASER International commented, “During a heart attack the level of Troponin T and Troponin I will increase typically by more than 20 fold their baseline value … Not only was no statistically significant difference in these biomarkers observed following TASER application in the Air Force study, but there is also no gradual and marked increase in these biomarkers … The slight, and statistically insignificant fluctuations in these biomarkers observed in this study appear to be noise rather than evidence of any cardiac damage.”
TASER also needed to get the backing of law enforcement:
Taser stock fell 78 percent in 2005 because of the S.E.C. investigation and four consecutive quarters of declining sales.The company is trying to regain the confidence of police departments after more than 40 lawsuits stemmed demand for its product.
The TASER press release carrying news of their vindication by two unimpeachable sources says that “Dr. Calkins’ letter and supporting documents are available at http://www.TASER.com/SavingLives for persons interested in learning more about this topic.” (Click the link and you’ll find that the page can’t be found. Here is one supporting document: http://content.onlinejacc.org/cgi/content/full/49/6/732 )
TASER is also suing medical examiners who implicate their product when someone dies after a zapping: “Taser win in court puts chill on doctors,” says a story in Canada’s National Post. The National Association of Medical Examiners say TASER’s actions are “dangerously close to intimidation.”
The triple-pronged campaign to restore its image is having the desired effect.
“I’m personally convinced that this device is saving lives everyday,” says Hugh Calkins (on the above missing link). The editorial staff of the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association takes a different view:
TASER International appears to attract loyalty. The scientific literature bears witness to a small group of dedicated researchers who diligently write letters to journals pointing out flaws in studies reporting harm from tasers. Unfortunately, some of these researchers occasionally neglect to mention their participation on TASER International’s medical advisory board or board of directors…
… we are used to thinking like physicians and scientists concerned about health, preferring to gather and analyze the facts rather than succumbing to the bald assertions of a large corporate entity that has demonstrated a willingness to squelch any messages that could hurt its bottom line.
Update: Death of man stunned by Florida police last year continues to mystify ORLANDO, Fla. — Adam Johnson is one of seven men who died after being shocked by stun guns wielded by Orange County law enforcement in the past decade…
Heart experts warn Tasers deadly
Suzanne Fournier, The Province
Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Tasers can cause fatal cardiac arrest and are even more dangerous if the subject is agitated, stressed and experiencing pain from the high-voltage device, two top Vancouver heart specialists said Tuesday.
Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital and UBC told the Braidwood Inquiry into Taser use Tuesday that “Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest in humans, particularly in people with underlying heart disease.”
Janusz told retired judge Tom Braidwood that the risk of dying after being Tasered is similar to the chances of dying after major heart surgery….
UPDATE: An article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology asserts Hugh Calkins’s pig studies won’t fly:
Taser Research in Pigs Not Helpful
“Efforts to study the human effects of Taser shocks by substituting pigs appear to have little rationale or necessity. Important anatomical and electrophysiological differences between humans and pigs make pigs poor surrogates for human responses to cardiac drugs and electrical discharges. Additional confounders include the use of anesthesia, controlled laboratory conditions, repetitive shocks in animals smaller than humans, and inability to interview the subjects about symptoms caused by their Taser exposures.”
This study from the American Journal of Cardiology – by cardiologists not being paid by TASER – also disputes Hopkins’s assertions of safety: http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149%2808%2902113-9/abstract
Update: NYT 5/17/2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/health/research/17safety.html?ref=todayspaper
Safety: Report Questions Studies on Stun Guns
By RONI CARYN RABIN
Advocates of electrical stun guns say they provide police officers with a nonlethal method of subduing suspects. But some experts believe the devices may have contributed to the deaths of suspects.
Scientific studies have produced mixed results, but a new report suggests that the conclusions of those studies are linked to their financing sources.
Cardiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, reviewed 50 published studies on Taser guns, including 23 financed by the manufacturer, Taser International, or written by someone affiliated with it, and 27 conducted by independent researchers.
Twenty-two of the 23 studies linked to the manufacturer concluded stun guns were either not harmful or not likely to be harmful. Seventy percent concluded they were not harmful at all.
In contrast, just over half of the independent studies found that Tasers were either not harmful or unlikely to be harmful. Twenty-six percent concluded they were not harmful at all.
“When you look at the research, you find out a lot of the articles that are touted by police departments are funded by the company, and it may be the research is being influenced and tainted,” said Dr. Byron Lee, an associate professor at the university and senior author of the study, which was presented this month to the Heart Rhythm Society.
Steve Tuttle, a Taser executive, said the device “is considered the most-tested less-lethal use of force technology today.”