College student’s death linked to ‘poppy tea’

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

Stephen loved music and playing guitar. 

“He had talked about potentially working in the music industry, owning music stores, teaching lessons,” said Steve.

But those dreams and his family’s world were devastated on April 3, 2016. That day a police officer knocked on the door.

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

Stephen’s parents were devastated, but also confused. Detectives found no obvious signs of drug use or trauma. But they did find something out of place: a five-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, that couldn’t have had anything to do with his death,” said Steve.

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

During their search for answers, his parents discovered several websites with instructions for making poppy tea. They worked with researchers from Sam Houston State University who found deadly levels of morphine in several brands of poppy seeds they ordered online. 

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

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton worked to get Walmart and Amazon to remove unwashed poppy seeds from their online inventories, but they are still available from other sources. 

Sen. Cotton says he is working with government agencies to stop their import. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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