Push to outlaw poppy seeds linked to 12 American deaths

Push to outlaw poppy seeds linked to 12 American deaths

They're sold online or even in the health food stores, but could have morphine levels higher than a deadly dose of prescription drugs or even heroin.

These so-called "contaminated" poppy seeds labeled with words like "unwashed" and "raw" have been linked to 12 deaths and now there's a push to make those forms of the seeds illegal.

As Boston 25 News first told you earlier this month, Todd Shirley died in March from what appeared to be an opioid overdose though no heroin or pills were found in his Georgia home.

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However, investigators did find bags of poppy seeds and a bottle with seeds and liquid in it.

Steve Hacala's son Steven died of a poppy seed overdose in 2016.

"If we hadn’t asked the questions about 'where did the morphine come from' we never would have known," Hacala said.

Dr. Peter Chai with the medical toxicology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital tells Boston 25 News it’s known that poppy seeds contain morphine. He says seeds you would find in a traditional grocery store or baked goods are dried and washed to get rid of the morphine.

“If you get fresh poppy seeds, those would have a lot higher morphine content,” Dr. Chai said.

Scientists at Sam Houston State University tested the morphine levels of 22 different brands of poppy seeds in their lab and found a small cup of tea could have lethal levels of morphine. The lab tests measured doses with four tablespoons of seeds, which is far less than what many online recipes for "poppy seed teas" call for.

“We don't know how much of a dose people are getting,” Dr. Chai said.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 12 deaths have been linked to poppy seed tea, and the numbers are likely higher since a special test needs to be done. Otherwise, the death looks like any other opioid overdose.

Poppy plants are listed as controlled substances and are illegal, but not the seeds.

The CSPI is now calling on the Food and Drug Administration and the DEA to crack down on the sale of unwashed poppy seeds.

Arkansas Senator John Boozman has also introduced a bill that would outlaw them.

Last year, the FDA sent a letter to makers of a poppy seed product demanding they stop making medicinal claims, but the product is still for sale.

"It's definitely something to think about if people are brewing poppy seed teas," Dr. Chai said.