FDA rules to ban ESDs for self-injurious, aggressive behavior


The Food and Drug Administration has banned all electrical stimulation devices used for self-injurious or aggressive behavior because of an unreasonable risk of illness or injury. This marks only the third time the FDA has banned a medical device since it gained the authority to do so.

FDA icon Wikimedia Commons/FitzColinGerald/ Creative Commons License

Electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) administer electric shocks through electrodes attached to the skin during self-injurious or aggressive behavior in an attempt to condition the patient to stop engaging in that behavior, according to the FDA press release. Current evidence indicates that use of these devices can lead to worsening of underlying symptoms, depression, anxiety, PTSD, pain, burns, and tissue damage; in contrast, evidence supporting their use is weak. In addition, many patients exposed to ESDs have intellectual or developmental disabilities and might not be able to adequately communicate their level of pain.

“Since ESDs were first marketed more than 20 years ago, we have gained a better understanding of the danger these devices present to public health. Through advancements in medical science, there are now more treatment options available to reduce or stop self-injurious or aggressive behavior, thus avoiding the substantial risk ESDs present,” William H. Maisel, MD, MPH, director of the Office of Product Evaluation and Quality in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in the release.

The ruling follows a 2016 proposal to ban ESDs from the marketplace; the proposed rule received more than 1,500 comments from stakeholders, such as parents of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, state agencies and their sister public-private organizations, the affected manufacturer and residential facility, some of the facility’s employees, and parents of individual residents, as well as from state and federal legislators and advocacy groups. Nearly all supported the ban.

As of March 4, the only facility currently using ESDs is the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass., with about 45-50 patients currently exposed to the device. The rule will go into effect 30 days after publication of the rule in the Federal Register, and compliance is required within 180 days.

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