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'It's a start:' Colorado bill aims to regulate a food additive increasingly used for suicide

Highly concentrated sodium nitrite sold online has devastated families across the country
'It's a start': Colorado bill aims to regulate sodium nitrite, a common food preservative, increasingly used to complete suicide
Posted at 5:46 PM, Jan 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-29 19:46:41-05

DENVER — A bill working it's way through Colorado's state legislature aims to regulate a food additive - sodium nitrite - which is increasingly being used for suicide.

Sara Ramirez said her first child, Noelle, saved her life.

“I lost my mom when I was 14. So, I had to grow up fast. I was on probably what you would say was the wrong path... she [Noelle] settled me down. She showed me, you know, life is more than just me," Sara said. “Being a mom just brought the best out of me.”

Sara described Noelle as kind and generous, with a big heart. However, Noelle struggled with her mental health.

“She had had mental health struggles for many, many years, in and out of mental health hospitals," Sara explained.

Sara said at the age of 18, Noelle told her parents she was transgender.

“It was a little difficult at first, but we love her. And it's like, well, you know, I don't care who you are. You're my child," Sara said.

Near the end of 2022 and toward the start of 2023, Sara said Noelle made several suicide attempts. On March 3, 2023, police knocked on the door of Sara's home to tell her Noelle was in the hospital. Sara rushed there.

“It's the worst thing I've ever experienced in my entire life," Sara said. “To hear the words, you know, 'She didn't make it, we did everything we could do,' it ripped my heart out."

Noelle died at the age of 20, just two months before her 21st birthday. Sara said Noelle left a note behind, which she still cannot bear to read. However, investigators read the note. Sara claims the note said that Noelle took sodium nitrite to end her life.

“Noelle took three times the lethal amount," Sara said.

The FBI contacted the family because Noelle allegedly purchased "suicide kits" online from a man named Kenneth Law. Law faces 28 charges in Canada related to allegedly selling highly concentrated forms of sodium nitrite online.

“It's so surreal. When we first found out about it, it just blows your mind to be a part of something so big," Sara said, after telling Denver7 that Law is accused of sending an estimated 1,200 packages to over 40 countries. “He is a monster that preys upon the vulnerable. He coached a lot of these people, telling them that it was a pain free, quick way to die. And it's anything but painlessly quick... Her [Noelle's] hand was the one that took the poison. But if it wasn't for those websites, and that person coaching and just freely giving them away, for cheap, most of these people would still be here.”

Noelle Ramirez
Two months shy of her 21st birthday, Noelle Ramirez took her own life using sodium nitrite, according to her mom Sara.

State Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat, is one of the prime sponsors of HB24-1081, which aims to regulate the sale and transfer of highly concentrated sodium nitrite.

“What the bill does is it says unless you have a legitimate business purpose, for buying these products, you can't get them," Amabile said. “It is used for curing meat and fish, but not in this super concentrated form."

The bill states that between 2018 and 2023 in Colorado, at least 25 people died from sodium nitrite. It continues to say that nationally, 222 deaths were linked to sodium nitrite in 2022 by a single private laboratory. If the bill were to pass in it's current form, violators would face civil penalties with the first offense costing $10,000.

Amabile said other states are starting to crack down on the online sales of the highly concentrated sodium nitrite.

"California passed something, New York is working on something. But ours is more comprehensive than anybody else's," Amabile said.

Sara said the bill is a good start, but she wants justice for her daughter.

“Her death will not be in vain," Sara said.

HB24-1081 cleared the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee unanimously. It heads to the House floor before going to the Senate.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, help is available immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling or texting 988 at any time of day. Colorado Crisis Services can also connect individuals with local support and resources, by calling 1-844-493-TALK.

'It's a start:' Colorado bill aims to regulate a food additive increasingly used for suicide