Police: Georgia man among 12 deaths linked to poppy seed tea

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A Dahlonega man’s death is among a dozen possibly linked to tea made with unwashed poppy seeds.

Lumpkin County Coroner Jim Sheppard said he learned of unwashed poppy seeds with the death of 46-year-old Todd Shirley in early March.

Sheppard is waiting on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s final toxicology report after unwashed poppy seeds and tea making materials were found at the Dahlonega home where Shirley was pronounced dead.

“I do believe that at the end it will show that Todd possibly died from an opiate overdose related to poppy seeds tea,” said Sheppard.

He said unwashed poppy seeds can have morphine levels higher than heroin or deadly doses of prescription drugs.

Sheppard told FOX 5 News poppy seeds are readily available online.

Laura MCleery with the food watchdog group, Science in the Public Interest, said unwashed poppy seeds can carry residue from the pod which can trigger overdose morphine amounts when steeped in tea.

“All poppy seeds are inside of like a gelatinous pod,” said McCleery.

She is working with Arkansas junior Senator Tom Cotton who introduced legislation to prohibit the U.S. sale of opioid-laced poppy seeds.

And she is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to take action.

“Even without the law in Congress to require that these seeds be cleaned properly before they’re sold,” said McCleery.

She said at least a dozen deaths have been connected to unwashed poppy seeds.

“Unregulated, this will be a problem and this could very well, in my opinion, lead to a lot more deaths and it could be in epidemic proportions,” said Sheppard.

Linda Golden, Todd Shirley’s mother, who spoke to FOX 5 News from South Carolina, hopes her son’s death raises awareness.

“Todd didn’t have any idea that something like that would take his life,” said Golden.

Lumpkin County Coroner Sheppard said he expects the final toxicology results on Todd Shirley to be returned from the GBI Crime Lab sometime this month.