Less lethal weapons have become a critical tool for law enforcement when confronting dangerous, combative individuals in the field. The purpose of this paper is to review the medical aspects and implications of three different types of less lethal weapons.
The paper conducted a comprehensive medical literature review on blunt projectiles, irritant sprays including oleoresin capsicum (OC), and conducted energy devices such as the Taser™. It reviews the history, mechanisms of action, intended and other physiologic effects, and medical safety risks and precautions of these devices. In particular, the paper focuses on the issue of sudden in‐custody death and less lethal weapons, reviewing case reports, animal research and human investigative studies on this topic.
In general, these three different types of less lethal weapons have been effective for their intended use. Each type of less lethal weapon has a number of physiologic effects and specific medical issues that must be considered when the weapon is used. There is no clear evidence that these devices are inherently lethal, nor is there good evidence to suggest a causal link between sudden in‐custody death and the use of irritant sprays or conducted energy devices.
While further research on the physiologic effects of these devices is needed, this paper provides law enforcement with a medical review of less lethal weapons including blunt projectiles, irritant sprays such as OC, and conducted energy devices such as the Taser.
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