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The U.S. Military guards against substance abuse by its service members, and regards substance abuse as a threat to troop safety and the overall readiness of the military. Now, the military is warning that eating poppy seeds could cause a service member to test positive the same way they would if they had abused certain opiate-based pain medications.
“Recent data suggest that certain poppy seed varieties may have higher codeine contamination than previously reported,” the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) said in a Wednesday statement.
Codeine is an opiate pain medication. Opiates are derived from the opium poppy flower, Papaver somniferum. The opium flower also produces the poppy seeds that are commonly found on bagels and in lemon-poppy seed muffins, among other baked goods.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the Department is encouraging all service members to avoid the consumption of poppy seeds in all forms to include food products and baked goods,” the DOD said. “As more information becomes available, the Department will revise the policy accordingly.”
Recruits are subjected to blood and uranalysis testing at their Military Entrance Processing Station when they enlist or become officer candidates. Once in the military, service members are also subjected to random urinalysis testing and routine inspections. Commanders may also order urinalysis testing if they have sufficient cause to suspect a service member has been using illegal drugs.
Perhaps ironically, while military urinalysis tests screen for the presence of drugs derived from the opium poppy, another flower in the poppy family, Papaver Rhoeas, has become a symbol of remembrance for fallen service members. British Commonwealth nations celebrate Remembrance Day, often referred to as Poppy Day, in recognition of fallen troops.
Poppy Seeds May Have Disqualified Innocent Troops
Since determining that urinalysis tests can return positive codeine results just from consuming poppy seeds, the DOD has acknowledged some service members could have already been disciplined or discharged erroneously.
“It’s possible that some service members have been disciplined or discharged for ‘innocent or unknown ingestion’ of poppy seeds,” a DOD article reads.
An unnamed official told the DOD that they are reevaluating codeine-only positive tests from fiscal year 2019 to the present.
Gilbert Cisneros, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, issued a memo advising service members to work with their local legal office if they have concerns about their consumption of poppy seeds and the effects it could have on their urinalysis tests.
In addition to bagels and other baked goods, poppy seeds are commonly used in salads and salad dressings and as spices in the cuisine of the Balkans, the Middle East, and central and eastern Europe.
Concerns about poppy seeds and negative drug test results have been around for decades, even making their way into pop culture.
In a 1996 episode of the popular sitcom “Seinfeld,” character Elaine Benes is disqualified from a work trip to Africa after testing positive for opiate use. Insistent that she is not a habitual drug user, she investigates and determines the test may be picking up a false positive because of the poppy seeds contained in the muffins from her favorite bakery.
In the third episode of popular Discovery Channel science program “Mythbusters,” the cast of the show determined that it was indeed possible that consuming poppy seeds could trigger a false-positive drug test result.
In 2018, a New York City corrections officer who had lost his job over a failed drug test got it back after arguing he had tested positive because of a poppy seed bagel.
By Ryan Morgan