National News

Parents Work To Ban Unwashed Poppy Seeds After Son's Death

Posted April 30, 2018 7:53 a.m. EDT

— A family in Rogers is working to ban unwashed poppy seeds after their son died from a morphine overdose two years ago, as a result of the seeds.

The family just returned from Washington, D.C., where Arkansas lawmakers are now getting involved.

Steve and Betty Hacala's son, Steven, was a student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and instead of watching their son graduate they laid him to rest.

It's been two years since Steven's death, but their fight continues to make sure no one else dies the way their son did.

There are a few things the Hacalas are trying to do, such as preventing the sale of unwashed poppy seeds and creating an awareness about the possible danger of the seeds.

They were recently in Washington speaking with lawmakers and did a Facetime interview with 5NEWS.

"What we found everywhere we go, like us, we were unaware that unwashed poppy seeds and poppy seed tea, or opium tea, was even a thing and so we're really trying to educate across a number of different avenues," said Steve.

The Hacalas said their son Steven was found unresponsive by his roommate two years ago.

When they went through his apartment, the only suspicious things they found were a bag of poppy seeds and a water bottle filled with them.

"At the time, I asked the detective, and my doctor friend, if this could have anything to do with his passing and we all said, 'how could it have been,'" said Steve.

A toxicology report later showed that Steven died from a morphine overdose that he got from drinking the poppy seed tea -- seeds he bought online.

Steve Hacala said their research has shown them that unwashed poppy seeds can have an opium latex that's activated during a tea brewing process. A lethal dose of morphine is about 200 milligrams.

It's a topic that Sen. Cotton has recently tackled.

Speaking from the Senate floor recently about the Hacala's story, he said, "researchers at Sam Houston State University, commissioned by the Hacalas, concluded that there were about 6,000 milligrams in that five-pound bag of seeds that Steven bought. That's over 30 times the lethal dose."

Cotton announced he, too, will work to ban unwashed seeds.

The Hacalas are not trying to get rid of all poppy seeds, they said the unknown danger lies with those seeds that are unwashed.

"The problem is the morphine concentrations vary so much between manufacturer, country of origin, harvest season, that you're really playing Russian Roulette with the dosage," said Steve, "you just don`t know what you're getting and that's what makes them so dangerous."

5NEWS learned that places such as Amazon or Walmart sell the seeds, and in many cases no where on the item did it state if the seeds were washed or unwashed.

For some of those products we were able to find that answer in the customer questions further down the page.

Sen. Cotton said he reached out to leadership for Amazon and Walmart who, he said, agreed to stop selling poppy seeds that were labeled as unwashed.