DoD tells soldiers to stop eating poppy seeds over drug test fears

The Department of Defense (DoD) is telling soldiers to avoid foods containing poppy seeds to prevent them from testing positive on drug tests.

In a memorandum released last week, the agency warned certain poppy seeds may cause people to show opioid levels above acceptable levels on drug tests.

US military members are drug tested each year. Trace amounts of opiates are allowed to be detected without penalty to account for foods that contain opiates.

Poppy seeds are harvested from opium poppies. The seeds are often soaked in opioid extract when picked – the same substance at the base of many pain-killing drugs.

This means service members will have to avoid eating many foods and baked goods and salad dressings that include the seeds. It is among many hidden chemicals that could be hiding in some common foods.

The DoD is warning service members not to eat food containing poppy seeds over fears that it will lead to a positive drug test (file photo)

Poppy seeds are harvested from the same plant as opium extract, and many uncleaned seeds are covered in the substance (file photo)

Poppy seeds are harvested from the same plant as opium extract, and many uncleaned seeds are covered in the substance (file photo)

‘Concerns with poppy seeds and drug testing are not new,’ Gil Cisneros, the agency’s Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, wrote in a memo.

The DoD oversees each branch of the US military, which includes around 500,000 people across seven branches.

‘…Recent data suggests certain poppy seed varieties may have higher codeine contamination than previously reported.

‘Consumption of poppy seed products could cause a codeine positive urinalysis result and undermine the Department’s ability to identify illicit drug use.’

He issued a warning against eating all poppy seeds out of fear of some soldiers testing positive.

The black seeds are harvested from poppy flowers. Some of these same flowers produce opium.

The substance is used as a pain-killing drug. It is controlled in the US, meaning it can only be distributed legally under certain circumstances.

While the DoD does allow service members to use drugs if prescribed by a pharmacist, those found to be using it without prior authorization can be disciplined.

Many harvested poppy seeds – which are allowed to be eaten by military members – are contaminated with opium.

The opioid extract used to create the drug can be present on the seeds’ surface.

Then when they are mixed into food, baked goods or drinks the small traces of the drug remain with them.

These include poppy seed and everything bagels, lemon cakes – which often also include poppy for flavoring – and some dressings such as honey mustard and ranches.

Poppy seed tea is also used as a source of natural pain relief – which occurs because of the effects of the opium coating the seeds.

‘Unwashed poppy seeds are a danger to the user and their abuse may result in unpredictable outcomes including death when used alone or in combination with other drugs as reported in the scientific literature,’ the Department of Justice warns.

As Mr Cisneros mentioned, it can lead to a person testing positive on a drug tests.

There are reports of people showing positive signs just hours after eating a food with poppy seeds.

The DoD already accounts for this in its testing for drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone and codeine.

But, they fear a newly detected variety of the seeds could have higher contamination of codeine – an opioid used in cough syrups – than what is legally allowed.

‘Out of an abundance of caution, I find protecting Service members and the integrity of the drug testing program requires a warning to avoid poppy seeds,’ Mr Cisneros continued.

‘As more information becomes available, we will revise this policy accordingly.’ 

The Department did not reveal what it detected to issue this warning. The DoD did not immediately reply to the request for comment.

Penalties for a failed drug test depend on the service members rank, the prevalence of drugs in their system and whether they have failed them before.

It can range from minor discipline to being dishonorably discharged and facing judicial penalties.