Amazon responsible for selling chemical used for suicide, lawsuits allege

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Lawsuits are seeking to hold Amazon accountable for selling a chemical used by people for suicide.

The substance is known as sodium nitrite and is usually used as a food preservative at low concentrations. The families of 15 people who died from the substance have sued Amazon in six separate cases.

Kaitlin Cherf, an attorney in Seattle, is defending the family of Tyler Schmidt, 15, who died by suicide in 2020 near Camas.

“If a 15-year-old can’t buy cough syrup, like Nyquil or Robitussin, at the drugstore, they should not be able to buy a suicide drug on Amazon,” Cherf contended.

Plaintiffs in the cases said Amazon knew as early as 2018 it was selling a product used for suicide. In 2022, Amazon changed the process for buying sodium nitrite so purchasers had to get it from a business account.

Etsy and eBay stopped selling the product in 2019. Amazon said it cannot be held responsible if people misuse its products.

The company is attempting to have some of the cases, including the Schmidt family case, thrown out. A court of appeals hearing is scheduled for July 16. Cherf pointed out the company is not only selling sodium nitrite at high concentrations — as high as 99% — but also argued the way it bundles products can push people to take their own lives.

“When you look at the algorithms, and the products being sold in conjunction with sodium nitrite, the effect of Amazon’s actions and inactions was to promote suicide,” Cherf alleged.

Cherf added there is a push to ban the sale of sodium nitrite to minors completely in Washington state.

“At any purity level, our goal would be to have it prohibited,” Cherf explained. “This proposal would also ban sales to adults over, like, the 10% concentration level.”

Featured photo: Amazon sold a chemical used for suicide at high concentrations but said it cannot be held responsible for how customers use products. (michelangeloop/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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