Mississippi mom pushes for regulation of caffeine pills after son dies from overdose

Noah Smith
Noah Smith
Noah Smith

OXFORD, Mississippi (AP) — Noah DeWayne Smith was a typical 17-year-old. He was in his senior year at Water Valley High School and working a job at the Piggly Wiggly. And in the few hours left in his day, he would paint and draw, go hunting or maybe ride his motorcycle.

On Sept. 26, he was feeling the effects of his busy schedule. He complained about being tired and purchased a box of caffeine pills from the store where he worked.

He took a “few,” he told his friends and family members. And when they didn’t work, he took a few more.

One caffeine pill is equivalent to two cups of coffee and has 200 milligrams of caffeine. Smith took several pills, his mother Jennifer Skelton Westmoreland, said.

“He came home about 6:30 p.m. and I was in bed already because I had worked all night,” Westmoreland said recently.

“He came in my room and I asked if he ordered his senior stuff and he said yes. I went to sleep.”

Smith called his father after that and told him he had taken the pills and that he didn’t feel right. He was upset and scared.

“The call lasted two minutes and he collapsed,” Westmoreland said.

Smith was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

“A dollar and seven cents took my baby,” Westmoreland. “That’s how much the pills cost.”

Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark said he could not confirm the cause of the death until toxicology reports are completed which can take several weeks.

Westmoreland said she had gotten on her son in the past over energy drinks but had never considered caffeine pills.

“These kids hear it’s caffeine and caffeine is in everything,” she said. “They can buy it at the store so they assume it’s safe. It’s just coffee, right?”

Westmoreland doesn’t want another mother to feel the pain she has felt since her son died.

“This is the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” she said. “Nothing is worse. I don’t want anyone to sit where I’m sitting, feel what I’m feeling.”

To help prevent that from happening, Westmoreland has started a petition to ban the sale of caffeine pills to minors under 18 years old. Each time she walks into a store and sees the pills sitting on a shelf, her pain is relived and so is her determination to fight to get Noah’s Law passed by the state Legislature in the 2015 session.

State Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Yalobusha, is helping Westmoreland with her fight.

“I’m going to introduce the legislation in January,” Reynolds said. “Children don’t need these things. These pills can be really dangerous if not taken properly and most times you don’t know you’ve taken too much until something has happened.”

Reynolds said the legislation seems to have support from the colleagues he’s spoken to about it.

“I just can’t see the benefit of allowing these sold to children,” he said.

About 1,400 people have signed the petitions that are located around Water Valley and Lafayette County at various convenience stores. Reynolds said those supporting Noah’s Law should contact their representatives to let them know how they feel about it.

“They need to hear from their constituents,” he said. “I’ve heard from mine loud and clear.”