HARRISONBURG, Va. (WRIC) — It’s been months since 21-year-old Steven Austin Underhill died in his fraternity house at James Madison University back in February, but police confirmed this week that Underhill died from an accidental overdose of opioids that came from the drug known as “poppy tea.”
It’s easy and inexpensive to make, using just poppy seeds and water, but medical experts say it can be addictive and obviously deadly.
“We’ve actually had to detox people off the tea and the detox has not been easy,” said Dr. Peter Coleman.
Coleman, founder of The Coleman Institute, an outpatient treatment center for addicts, says they’ve had patients who turned to poppy tea as a way to stop using heroin.
“We’ve seen people using it to try and detox themselves and invariably they’ve been unsuccessful,” said Coleman.
Coleman says poppy tea still contains opiates and can make people even more addicted to the drug.
“Oh we’re very concerned,” said Dr. Ruddy Rose.
Rose with the Virginia Poison Center says they haven’t had any calls about poppy tea yet, but he’s concerned it could become more of a problem with access to pain medications becoming more difficult.
“As the restriction on prescription opioids tightens we see more patients experimenting with alternative forms of opiates,” said Rose.
Rose says the level of opium differs among poppy seeds and depending on the amount of water you’re using, there’s no telling how potent a batch of poppy tea could be.
“It’s really Russian roulette. You really have no idea what you’re putting in your body,” said Rose.
Rose and Coleman call Underhill’s death another cautionary tale in what has become an all too familiar story.
“Simply because other people seem to be doing it have not had a bad outcome it only takes one time,” said Rose.
“The death toll in Virginia is now over 800 every year from opiates of one kind or another and this is unfortunately just another one of those statistics,” said Coleman.