Background: Plastic bullets were introduced to Northern Ireland for riot-control purposes in 1973. Their use has been controversial, with a number of fatalities. In the week beginning July 7, 1996, some 8,000 plastic bullets were fired during widespread rioting.
Methods: Details of injuries attributed to plastic bullets were obtained retrospectively from patient notes for the period July 8 to 14, 1996, in six hospitals. A total of 172 injuries in 155 patients were recorded.
Results: Nineteen percent of injuries were to the face/head/neck, 20% were to the chest or abdomen, and 61% were to the limbs. Abbreviated Injury Scale scores ranged from I to 3. Forty-two patients were admitted for hospitalization, three to intensive care units. No fatalities occurred.
Conclusion: Plastic bullet impact to the abdomen or above may cause life-threatening injuries. Below this site, major trauma is unlikely.