Chemical Suicides: Quick Death, But Public Health Hazard

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Informal Tally Finds At Least 38 U.S. Deaths Since May 27, 2008

The website of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs' Association contains accounts of 32 chemical suicides from May 27, 2008, to Sept. 18, 2010, in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Utah, (excluding the Venice and Beverly Hills cases), as well as four suicide attempts in Colorado, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

So far this year, Michigan news outlets reported on Jan. 14, 2011, that a 28-year-old man been found dead from hydrogen sulfide poisoning in rural Lake County in that state's second detergent suicide. Six days after the Hollywood Hills case, police in Watertown Mass., discovered the body of a 32-year-old Massachusetts man inside a car with hydrogen sulfide warning signs. Together, the reports account for 38 deaths.

Despite the relatively small numbers, Winter described himself as "a little concerned about putting the idea in people's heads that don't know about it." His remarks echoed those of Wylie Tene, spokesman for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York, who called chemical suicides "a very rare occurrence and we don't want it to become a popular thing."

At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, program director in medical toxicology, said that although his medical center hasn't encountered any cases, "the recipes are out there. They're well thought-out."

Nevertheless, he said that those who carry out their suicide plans "represent the smaller portion of your suicidal population. Most folks are out to make a gesture or make a statement."

Austin, however, was determined to bring his sadness to an end. Coulter shared a heartbreaking image Austin took with his cellphone the night before killing himself. "I think it was his way of showing just how sad he was," his mother said. "I don't know who it was intended for... maybe everyone."

Austin Mueller, 18, was a talented artist and astrophysics student at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville, Ill., when he committed chemical suicide on May 5, 2010, after a long struggle with depression.
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