Family warns of poppy seed dangers after 24-year-old dies

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The opioid epidemic is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year.

The federal government is spending billions of dollars to fight the problem.

But there is the loophole which allows powerful opioids to enter the country legally, and one family is fighting to stop it.

“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.”

Stephen Hacala loved music and playing guitar. 

“Had talked about potentially working in the music industry, owning music stores, teaching lessons,” Hacala said.

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

“And he said, ‘Your son died in his sleep in his apartment last night.’ And it just shattered me,” Hacala said.

Stephen’s parents were devastated but also confused.

Detectives found no obvious signs of drugs use or trauma.

But they did find something out of place: 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. 

This week, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton spoke from the Senate floor about Stephen’s death.

“Resulted in part because of a dangerous gap in our nation’s drug laws,” Cotton said.

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,” Hacala said.

Cotton says he wants change.

“We need to change the regulatory approach,” Cotton said. “We need to make sure that we ban all unwashed poppy seeds.”

The Hacalas were in the gallery when Cotton delivered his speech.

They came to Washington to push for new laws hoping to prevent others from experiencing their pain.

“That’s an act of true love for Stephen. And for their fellow Americans,” Cotton said.

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