Why some types of poppy seeds are still available after being linked to deaths

WATCH: Why some types of poppy seeds are still available after being linked to deaths

When we think of poppy seeds, we usually think of muffins or bagels, but some poppy seeds sold online or in stores could have morphine levels higher than a deadly dose of heroin.

Linda Golden's son, Todd, died in his sleep in March. It seemed like an opioid overdose would be to blame, but no heroin or pills were found in the Georgia man's Dahlonega home.

"I'm just expecting to be able to pick up the phone and talking to him and that's not going to happen," Golden said.

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Investigators found bags and bags of poppy seeds in his home, along with a water bottle filled with seeds in liquid.

You can buy so-called contaminated poppy seeds easily and legally online or in health food stores. There are also online recipes for poppy seed tea, boasting it will help with sleep or with aches and pains. The labels use words like unwashed and raw, seeds scientists say can have the same dangerous effects as heroin or morphine.

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.

The idea that poppy seeds can be dangerous has typically been played for laughs, like in one Seinfeld episode, safety groups say 12 deaths have been linked to poppy seed tea. They believe numbers could be much higher since it looks like any other opioid overdose, unless a special test is done.

Scientists at Sam Houston State University tested the morphine levels of 22 different easily available brands of poppy seeds in their lab and found a small cup of tea could have lethal levels of morphine in it. The lab tests only measured doses with 4 tablespoons of seeds, which is much less than what most of the tea recipes call for.

Senator John Boozman says Congress needs to get involved Poppy plants are listed as controlled substances and are illegal, but the seeds are not. A bill Boozman has introduced would outlaw unwashed poppy seeds

"It is a very, very dangerous situation and I think there really is a role for the federal government," Senator Boozman said.

Last year, the FDA sent a letter to makers of a poppy seed product demanding it stop making medicinal claims, but it is still being sold. The same brand found in the room where Todd Shirley died is also still for sale. Linda Golden says she looks at the website almost every day, horrified to see the product still available for purchase.

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