Just One Place Shocks Autistic Students. FDA Has Stepped In

Agency bans shock devices, just the 3rd item it's ever banned
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 4, 2020 3:33 PM CST
FDA Adds Shock Device to Very Short List of Banned Items
In this Aug. 13, 2014 file photo, a therapist checks the ankle strap of an electrical shocking device on a student during an exercise program at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

(Newser) – Federal officials on Wednesday banned electrical shock devices used to discourage aggressive, self-harming behavior in patients with mental disabilities, the AP reports. The announcement from the FDA follows years of pressure from patient groups and mental health experts who have called the treatment outdated, ineffective, and unethical. The agency first announced its intent to ban the devices in 2016. For years, the shock devices, which can cause burns and tissue damage, have been used by only one place in the US, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center of Canton, Massachusetts, a residential school for people with autism and other psychiatric, developmental, or mental disabilities. School administrators have called the shocks a last resort to prevent dangerous behaviors, such as head-banging, throwing furniture or attacking others.

The school has used shock devices carried in students' backpacks, which were attached to their arms and legs via electrodes. School staffers could trigger a two-second shock to a patient’s skin by using a remote controller. The school has faced lawsuits brought by families who said their children were traumatized by the shocks; other parents reported the technique was the only thing that prevented violent behavior linked to autism and other disabilities. The FDA estimates 45 to 50 people at the school are currently being treated with the device. Typically, the FDA addresses safety issues by adding new warning labels or modifying instructions for devices; it has only banned two other products in more than 40 years of regulating medical devices: powdered surgical gloves, which can cause allergic reactions, and fake hair implants, which caused infections and didn't work. (More on the school's use of the devices here, here, and here.)

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