After having his reputation schmeared because of a poppy-seed bagel, a New York City corrections officer has finally been reinstated to his job at Rikers Island.
Eleazar Paz, a 49-year-old married father-of-two, went back on the New York City Department of Corrections’ payroll on Christmas Eve, nearly two years after he scarfed down the fateful breakfast treat on the day of a random drug test.
When the results came back nine days later, they showed that the jail guard had tested positive for 522 nanograms per milliliter of morphine and 358 nanograms per milliliter of codeine.
Christmas miracle: Eleazar Paz, pictured above with wife Cristina, has been reinstated to his job as a New York City corrections officer after being fired because of a poppy-seed bagel
Seedy situation: Paz, a 10-year veteran of the department, failed a random drug test in 2016, which was administered after he wolfed down a poppy-seed bagel
Paz, who had never failed a drug test before in his 10 years working as a guard, was suspended from his $82,000-a-year job, and later reinstated on modified duty after secondary tests came back negative for traces of narcotics, reported the New York Post.
When his case went to trial at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings in April of this year, toxicology expert Williams Sawyer testified in Paz’s defense, saying that that his breakfast bagel containing poppy seeds caused him to fail the drug test.
Sawyer explained that a person addicted to morphine and codeine would have had thousands of nanogrpams per milliliter of the substances in his urine, not hundreds like Paz, according to the Washington Post.
Opiates like morphine and codeine are extracted from poppies. If poppy seeds used in food preparation are not carefully washed, they can result in false positives during drug testing.
Unlike federal agencies, which use a higher standard of 2,000 nanograms per milliliter in drug tests, New York City’s Department of Corrections uses a lower threshold of 300 nanograms per millilieter.
The federal government raised the bar in 1998 to help weed out false positives caused by unwashed poppy seeds commonly found in baked goods like bagels, muffins and cakes.
Paz was temporarily reinstated on modified duty at the Rikers Island jail (pictured), but earlier this year he was terminated, despite and administrative judge’s recommendation to drop the case against him
In June, New York City administrative Judge John Spooner recommended that Paz be reinstated.
But the Department of Corrections ignored the judge’s decision and fired Paz after calling into question the notion that a handful of poppy seeds baked into a bagel can cause someone to fail a drug test.
Determined to clear his name, Paz appealed his firing with the City Service Commission – a move that paid off last month, when the panel reversed his termination.
In the wake of Paz’s reinstatement, the Corrections Department said the jail guard won’t be eligible to receive back pay for the months he’d been out of work, but his attorney is prepared ot challenge that decision.
As for Paz, the newly rehired jailer has vowed to stay away from all baked goods containing poppy seeds, just to be on the safe side.
He is not the only person who has found himself on the wrong side of the law because a handful of black seeds.
Paz, a married dad-of-two, appealed the decision, and a city commission ruled in his favor, ordering the corrections department to take him back
In 2014, 31-year-old Rachael Devore, from Pennsyvlania, failed a drug test while in labor with her daughter after she had a poppy seed bagel for breakfast.
Hospital staff then turned over her positive drug test result to county caseworkers, raising the possibly that she would be stripped off her parental rights.
Elizabeth Eden, from Maryland, found herself in a nearly identical situation in April of this year, when she went to a hospital to give birth to her daughter.
That morning, the mom-to-be had eaten a poppy-seed bagel, which caused her to test positive for opiates.
Eden’s name was cleared only after a case worker assigned by the state determined that poppy seeds were to blame for the false positive.
In a similar case from 2010, another Pennsylvania mother ended up getting a $143,000 settlement from James Hospital after her newborn baby was taken away from her for five days because of a failed drug test cause by a poppy seed bagel.