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Push from parents of UA grad who died at 24 leads to warning on unwashed poppy seeds

by Frank E. Lockwood | December 13, 2019 at 7:02 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Purveyors of unwashed poppy seeds have been put on notice by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration -- opium alkaloids accompanying the seeds aren't exempt from the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.

Unwashed seeds contaminated with opium alkaloids have been linked in scientific literature to the deaths of at least 12 people in the U.S., according to the DEA, including a Fayetteville man in 2016.

Federal law classifies opium poppy, poppy straw, opium and opiates as Schedule II controlled substances. But it specifically excludes poppy seeds; the seeds are an ingredient in some foods.

In a one-page document last month, the DEA's Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section warned about the dangers associated with using unwashed poppy seeds.

"Unwashed poppy seeds are abused for their opioid effects. Some users boil the seeds to produce a tea, which is consumed for the purposes of perceived 'natural' pain relief. Others produce the poppy seed tea from unwashed poppy seeds purely to obtain a 'high.' Unwashed poppy seeds are a danger to the user and their abuse may result in unpredictable outcomes including death when used alone or in combination with other drugs as reported in the scientific literature," it stated.

Stephen Patrick Hacala Jr., a gifted guitarist and a 2013 University of Arkansas graduate, died April 3, 2016, after drinking poppy seed tea.

He was 24 years old.

His death was attributed to a morphine overdose resulting from poppy seed tea consumption.

His parents, Steve and Betty Hacala of Rogers, welcomed the DEA announcement on Thursday.

"The sale of unwashed/morphine laced poppy seeds has gone on for far too long and is killing people, harming unknowing consumers, and contributing to our opioid crisis in this country. The DEA's confirmation that the sale of contaminated poppy seeds violates the Controlled Substances Act is another important step to stop these sales and hold sellers and distributors accountable for violating the law," they said in an email.

"Although this action won't bring back our son Stephen, we are confident that it will save lives. We are forever grateful for the support from Senator [Tom] Cotton and his office, Senator [John] Boozman, Congressman [Steve] Womack, Attorney General [Leslie] Rutledge, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, as well as the DEA and [Food and Drug Administration], in understanding and addressing this deadly product," they wrote. "We look forward to further action from both the DEA and FDA to enforce the law, hold sellers accountable and stop the sale of contaminated poppy seeds."

Earlier this year, Cotton and Boozman introduced a bill prohibiting the sale of opioid-laced poppy seeds in the United States.

They called it the Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act.

Womack introduced similar legislation in the House.

Cotton credited the Hacalas with helping to fix "a dangerous gap in our nation's drug laws."

"Now, anyone who sells unwashed morphine-laced poppy seeds will face the full force of the law and can no longer hide behind legal technicalities," he added.

The Hacalas have filed suit against retailer Amazon, alleging their son bought a 5-pound bag of the tainted seeds on Amazon.com.

The company has denied liability and the case is in federal court.

Walmart voluntarily suspended sales of unwashed poppy seeds on its website.

Bonanza, eBay and Etsy said they would no longer be selling poppy seeds labeled as unwashed. The state's attorney general urged them to take the step.

Since Hacala's death, his parents have lobbied in Washington, urging officials to crack down on the sale of unwashed poppy seeds.

The goal, they said, is to prevent other parents from losing sons and daughters.

"We all miss him terribly. Every day," Steve Hacala said earlier this year.

"It's a giant hole," Betty Hacala said.

"It's a hole that just doesn't get filled," Steve Hacala said.

NW News on 12/13/2019

Print Headline: Push from parents of UA grad who died at 24 leads to warning on unwashed poppy seeds

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