News Releases

Rutledge Asks Retailers to Remove Unwashed Poppy Seeds from Shelves

Says, ‘unwashed poppy seeds contain substantial amounts of morphine, codeine and thebaine’

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced she has sent a letter to online retailers, including Amazon, Ebay and Etsy, requesting the removal of unwashed poppy seeds from online products. In May, Attorney General Rutledge released an Attorney General Alert warning of the dangers of unwashed poppy seeds and telling the story of Stephen Hacala, who died from morphine intoxication after consuming so-called poppy seed tea made from unwashed poppy seeds.

“This letter outlines the unknown dangers of unwashed poppy seeds,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Although washed poppy seeds are approved for consumption for use such as baking ingredients, unwashed poppy seeds can contain substantial amounts of morphine, codeine and thebaine, which are harmful Schedule II controlled substances.”

Earlier this year, Attorney General Rutledge met with Steve and Betty Hacala to hear the heartbreaking story of their son, Stephen. Stephen had purchased unwashed poppy seeds from Amazon to make so-called poppy seed tea, presumably with the hope of achieving the “trip” that online Amazon reviewers reference. In April 2016, Stephen was found dead in his apartment in Fayetteville with a partially used 5-pound bag of poppy seeds and a water bottle containing some of the wet seeds. An autopsy, performed by Dr. Stephen Erickson at the Arkansas State Crime Lab, revealed that Stephen Hacala died of morphine intoxication.

“We want to thank General Rutledge and her office for taking proactive actions to warn consumers and to motivate online and traditional retailers to remove unwashed poppy seeds for sale,” said Steve Hacala. “There is no legitimate use for unwashed poppy seeds, and their sale and distribution needs to be stopped to protect consumers and close another channel for users to obtain opioids. These actions will save lives.”

“I have tried to separate myself from the pain of these families for 25 years now,” Dr. Erickson said. “But when a loved one like Stephen Hacala dies, I technically become that family’s doctor. I’m just so tired of seeing the heartbreak. You shouldn’t be able to buy these things off the internet that are so dangerous and can kill you so easily.”

Attorney General Rutledge is asking these online retailers to remove all unwashed poppy seeds from their online catalogs and affiliated stores to help prevent the deaths of consumers in the future. Walmart has already taken action to no longer be part of the problem by removing unwashed poppy seeds from their shelves.