FDA Ban on Electrical Stimulation Devices

This blog was authored by Kim Sanders, Ukeru Systems’ President

In the history of our nation, we have disturbing examples of inhuman treatment conducted in the name of public health. Some of the most egregious examples involve controlling the behavior of those with mental and physical challenges. One such technique that, to date, has been considered an acceptable form of behavior modification is currently in the spotlight: the use of electrical stimulation devices (ESDs).

It is only recently that the FDA proposed a rule to ban these devices despite the fact that evidence has long shown that such techniques are not only ineffective, but actually cause, reinforce and maintain aggression and violence­­. In some instances, their use has had deadly consequences. There is no reason for these outdated techniques to exist, particularly when there are proven behavior management tools that work.

When a child or adult experiences adverse treatment methods, the current trauma is compounded by past experiences, leading to even more aggression and fueling a psychologically destructive cycle. As an example, “Adam,” a 20-year old male, came to Grafton Integrated Health Network after spending five years in a psychiatric facility where he received electric shocks whenever he exhibited inappropriate behavior. According to the reports, Adam had 94 acts of physical aggression, 1193 behaviors not conducive to a learning environment and 3905 inappropriate verbal outbursts. Given this information, consider the number of times ESD’s must have been used on Adam over those five years.

Adam was diagnosed with moderate mental retardation, fetal drug exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder, organic personality syndrome, impulse control disorder, seizure disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The multidisciplinary team at Grafton working with Adam focused on identifying his triggers in order help him self-regulate his behavior.

Once it was determined that Adam was acting out simply because he wanted some measure of control over his environment, he was taught to use coping strategies and replacement behaviors. In a compassionate, non-violent environment, he realized that he no longer needed to engage in dangerous behaviors. Ultimately, he thrived in his new setting, with a significant reduction in reported incidents of inappropriate interactions and aggression.

When working with individuals who have experienced trauma, we must remember to be at our best even when they are at their worst. When we use techniques such as electrical stimulation, degrading people like Adam, we are at our worst. ESD use only adds fuel to an emotional fire within people suffering from the effects of trauma.

Our strong hope is that the FDA ban is passed immediately and that no other American is exposed to this degrading and dangerous practice. Ukeru has made our point of view clear by submitting comments to the FDA as it deliberate its decision. Lend your voice to the discussion by commenting on the proposal before July 25.