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Amazon responsible for selling chemical used for suicide, lawsuits allege

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(Washington News Service) 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.

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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 percent -- 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 percent concentration level."