U.S. Lawmakers Question Amazon Over Sale of Chemical Compound Used in Suicide

U.S. Lawmakers Question Amazon Over Sale of Chemical Compound Used in Suicide
Photo: David Ryder, Getty Images

Editor’s note: This article contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is having a crisis, please call Lifeline at 13-11-14.

A bipartisan group of seven lawmakers from the House of Representatives told Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in a letter that they were gravely concerned over how easy and fast it was for people to buy a chemical compound, which is legal in the U.S., used to die by suicide on its platform, according to a new report in the New York Times.

Published on Friday, the report states that Amazon didn’t take action on the availability of the chemical compound on its platform after it was informed of the deaths and potential danger associated with the product by family members of the deceased and others. Most importantly, it found that enough people had bought the chemical compound to kill themselves that Amazon’s algorithm began recommending other products that users bought to help them take their lives.

In addition, Rep. Lori Trahan, Democrat of Massachusetts, told the outlet that there are claims that reviews warning others about the product were removed on Amazon.

The lawmakers asked Jassy for more information on sales of the chemical compound and related suicides. They also want to know how it handled the potential dangers surrounding the product and the complaints it received.

The Times found that at least 10 people had killed themselves using the chemical compound after buying it on Amazon in the past two years. Gizmodo has chosen not to name the substance out of an abundance of caution and sensitivity for those struggling with thoughts of suicide. As of Friday, the substance was still available on Amazon.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones personally affected by suicide,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement on Friday. The spokesperson added that the chemical compound “is commonly used to preserve foods such as meats and fish, and can also be used in laboratories as a reagent. It is a widely available product offered by retailers, and unfortunately, like many products, it can be misused.”

The company pointed out that it requires its partners to follow the law and its own policies when selling on Amazon. It also stated that it had provided customers in crisis with various resources, such as including a banner under certain search results in its store with the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

One of my searches on Amazon did indeed show the hotline number. However, my search also brought up extremely alarming and triggering content, including explicit methods that guaranteed death, on suicide as one of the first results. We’ve followed up with Amazon to ask why this type of content remains on its platform.

Trahan explained to the Times that lawmakers were focusing on Amazon because they believe the platform is the one most often used to obtain the chemical compound quickly, as well as over concerns raised by families and others that product reviews urging caution were removed.

“Amazon had the opportunity with their response to collaborate with us on this issue that’s tragically ending the lives of people across our nation,” Trahan told the outlet. “Instead, they failed to answer many of our most critical questions.”

As someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, I can assure you that’s not helpful to have a chemical compound like this available at the click of a button with lightning-fast delivery. It’s risky and dangerous. Furthermore, failing to acknowledge or have a conversation on what’s being done with these products, and taking appropriate action, can cost people their lives.

To all of those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Help is available and it can make a difference. Take it from someone who’s been there and who is, gratefully, still here.