Family wants poppy seeds banned after 24-year-old son dies

Covering Washington

The opioid epidemic is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year, and it’s not just pills and powder anymore.

There is a new loophole which allows powerful opioids to enter the country legally, and one family is fighting to stop it after losing their son.

It involves poppy see tea, which is made using unwashed poppy seeds sold online. The tea, first brewed centuries ago, releases the morphine and codeine in the seeds and has recently been linked to several deaths

“Stephen was 24 years old,” said Steve Hacala, father of Stephen Hacala. “He was a graduate of Bentonville High School and the University of Arkansas.”

The Hacalas lost their son, Stephen, to the tea overdose.

“He said your son died in his sleep in his apartment last night. And it just shattered me,” said Steve Hacala.

Detectives found no obvious signs of drugs use or trauma. But they did find a 5-pound bag of unwashed poppy seeds.

“And I remember asking the detective if this could have had anything to do with Stephen’s death and even my doctor friend, and we all said ‘No,'” Hacala said. 

But when the toxicology report came back, the cause of death was a morphine overdose. 

Now, the Hacalas are pressing Congress for a new ban on those unwashed seeds.

“Manufacturers and retailers/distributors are selling not just the seeds but the seeds coated with opium latex,” Steve Hacalas said.

“We need to change the regulatory approach,” Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said after hearing the Hacalas’ story. “We need to make sure that we ban all unwashed poppy seeds.”

Lisa Marzilli, a national speaker on addiction, says she’s also concerned about the poppy seed tea comeback.

“Depending on how well the seed was washed before it hit the market, the whole foods or other establishment, there are varying amounts, trace amounts of morphine and codeine. So if an individual or child took in enough, it certainly could cause respiratory depression and death,” Marzilli said. 

And since there is no way to assess the dosage in the tea, users will never know exactly how dangerous the drink is.  

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