Colorado father urges lawmakers to limit sale of sodium nitrite, food preservative being used in suicides

Dad whose son killed himself with sodium nitrite pushes for regulation in Colorado

A Colorado father, driven by grief, is pushing to make Colorado among the first states in the country to regulate the sale of sodium nitrite.

The preservative, used to cure meat, is deadly in its concentrated form, which is widely available online and in some sporting goods stores.

Bruce Brown's son is among a growing number of people who have used it to end their lives.

"I was in total shock, I mean over a year later, I'm still in partial shock," says Brown, who was the 5th Judicial District Attorney, which covers Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties, for 8 years.

Not a day goes by that he doesn't wish he could turn back time and bring back his son: "Bennett had had a really tough go of things."

Bennett Brown Courtesy / Bruce Brown

He says the 17-year-old suffered from long-term COVID and it exacted a toll, not only on his physical health but his mental health too. The final setback came just over a year ago when he lost consciousness, fell, and suffered a concussion that forced him to drop out of college.

"That was a lot for him to handle," his dad says.

Bennett Brown hid the depth of his despair from everyone but an online group with a perverse mission -- to facilitate death. Instead of helping save lives, their website helps end them by using sodium nitrite.

Brown says his son didn't want to die but by the time he sought help it was too late.

"You look back, as every parent of a child who dies by suicide, and say 'What could we have done different?' and it's just the parade of horribles," he said.

It wasn't until months later he learned of the trail of deaths from sodium nitrite. He sounded an alarm at the state capitol.

"The more families we hear from that have had this happen, so across the country, it's on the rise," said state Rep. Judy Amabile, who has introduced a bill to ban the sale of sodium nitrite in Colorado, except to those with commercial licenses. The bill would also require manufacturers to specify on the label that it's a poison and how to reverse it.

"You know he's, to say the least, he's missed by a lot of people," said Brown, who couldn't save his son but is hoping the bill will save others.

"It's like if you were fighting a fire and your house burned down, would you stare and look at the ruin or would you try to save your neighbors?" 

At Brown's urging, the Colorado Department of Health is encouraging first responders to start carrying the antidote for sodium nitrite.

Amabile hopes to bring a bill next year to address the websites that promote the preservative as a means of suicide.

If you are feeling suicidal, there is help. You can call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or visit You can also call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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