Poisoning and suicide by cyanide jewelry cleaner in the US Hmong community: a case series

Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2012 Feb;50(2):136-40. doi: 10.3109/15563650.2011.650173. Epub 2012 Jan 31.


Over 200 000 persons of Hmong ethnicity live in the United States. The majority of this Southeast Asian ethnic group live in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Tradition plays a strong role in the Hmong population, and difficulty in assimilation into "Western ways" has been reported to result in depression and suicide attempts. Some products sold at Southeast Asian ethnic markets are well-known within the Hmong community to be lethal but are essentially unknown to the outside community. We describe eight cases in which cyanide-containing products were ingested by Hmong patients. Seven cases were suicide attempts involving the ingestion of a locally-purchased substance intended for cleaning metal, coins, or jewelry. One case involved the fatal ingestion of a cyanide-containing "herbal" cure. In the majority of the cases, cyanide was not initially suspected, and treatment was delayed due to lack of information regarding the product ingested. In the two patients who survived, the cyanide antidote kit (sodium nitrite, amyl nitrite, and sodium thiosulfate) was administered early. Clinicians should be aware that unusual and potentially lethal products are easily available at ethnic markets. Cyanide toxicity should be suspected, and empiric antidote therapy initiated early, in patients of Hmong or Southeast Asian descent who present with sudden and unexplained cardiovascular collapse and metabolic acidosis, especially in the setting of a suspected suicidal ingestion.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Cyanides / poisoning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jewelry*
  • Male
  • Poisoning / ethnology
  • Suicide* / ethnology


  • Cyanides