In a lawsuit, Amazon is accused of selling suicide kits, brought by the families of two teenagers who bought a deadly chemical online and then killed themselves with it.
Parents of 16-year-old Kristine Jónsson of Ohio and 17-year-old Ethan McCarthy of West Virginia claim the retailer contributed to their deaths by selling them sodium nitrite, a food preservative that is fatal at high purity levels.
According to a lawsuit filed in California state court in September, Amazon recommended that its customers purchase a scale to measure the correct dose, an anti-vomiting drug, and a handbook on assisted suicide from the company.
Dial 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8, or text HOME to 741741, if you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide.
‘Amazon is selling a product that is as deadly as cyanide,’ Carrie Goldberg and Naomi Leeds, attorneys at Goldberg, PLLC, said in a statement.
“This differs from selling rope, knives, or other implements that can be used as weapons of death because [sodium nitrite] at the level of purity (98-99%) it sells has no household use,” they said.
The substance is typically used at low concentrations to cure meats such as ham, bacon, and hot dogs, but high concentrations can result in difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, and even death.
Goldberg says some sodium nitrite sold on Amazon is so pure that ingesting a single teaspoon will almost certainly cause death.
The 988 mental health crisis line has seen an increase in calls and texts during its first month of operation
Earlier this year, the same law firm filed a lawsuit in Washington state alleging Amazon sold the drug to Mikael Scott, 27, and Tyler Muhleman, 17, who also took it to kill themselves.
In a statement, Amazon expressed its “deepest condolences” to the families and loved ones of those who have committed suicide and reiterated its commitment to customer safety. During an interview with reporters, the company said it requires sellers to follow all applicable laws and regulations.
“Sodium nitrite is a legal and widely-available product that retailers offer to preserve foods, such as meats and fish, or for laboratory use. “Sodium nitrite is not intended for consumption, and unfortunately, like many products, it can be misused,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The company Loudwolf, which manufactured the sodium nitrite the teens purchased from Amazon in the California case, did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon no longer sells Loudwolf’s sodium nitrite, according to the lawyers who brought the suit.
There is a little-known antidote to sodium nitrite that people should know about: methylene blue injections. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon sold ad space to a brand of methylene blue on several sodium nitrite product pages, yet it did not mention the existence of an antidote on Loudwolf’s sodium nitrite listing.
Plaintiffs claim that posts on online suicide forums discuss sodium nitrite usage for suicide and that Amazon has received complaints from people alerting the company to suicides involving the drug.
In February, a bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to Amazon asking about Amazon’s sales of Sodium Nitrite and related suicides, what the company has done to address the dangers of the substance, as well as how it responded to complaints.
At the time, the newspaper reported that 10 people had allegedly murdered themselves in the last two years with the chemical that had been purchased on Amazon.
For more coverage on this story, check the following additional news sources:
- A parents’ lawsuit accuses Amazon of selling suicide kits to teenagers NPR
- ‘Amazon is a serial killer’: Lawyer calls out tech giant over alleged sale of ‘suicide kits’ The Daily Dot
- Amazon “suicide kits” have led to teen deaths, according to new lawsuit Ars Technica