Ingestion of Poppy Seeds and Failed Drug Testing

Ingestion of Poppy Seeds and Failed Drug Testing

Before you chow down that pastry with poppy seeds, know that According to Beth Israel Lahey Health, Winchester Hospital in Massachusetts, traces of both morphine and codeine can be found in the poppy seeds, which are commonly used as ingredients in a variety of baked goods.

These traces will indicate a false positive on a urine drug screening. Until December 1, 1998, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) had set the cut-off concentration level for opiate urine tests at 300 ng/ml for the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Program. But this standard urine screening could not reliably differentiate between poppy seed eaters and opiate users based on concentration levels of opiates. 

The reason for the inability to differentiate between poppy seed eaters and opiate users is because eating a poppy seed bagel will produce an opiate level of approximately 250 ng/ml three hours later, and ingesting three teaspoons of poppy seeds can result in a level of 1,200 ng/ml six hours later.

Studies have been conducted worldwide to verify the validity of what has been called “the poppy seed defense.” 

In various medical studies, subjects have initially shown negative test results for opiates, followed by positive results only a few hours later after consuming cakes, rolls, muffins, bread, or bagels containing poppy seeds.

“Mythbusters.” demonstrated the claim. One participant ate a poppy seed cake and tested positive for opiates a ½-hour later. The other participant ate three poppy seed bagels and tested positive two hours later. Both parties continued to test positive for 16 hours.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) conducted a study that examined the results of 317,500 urine specimens tested for opiates and reviewed by three Medical Review Officer (MRO) groups and 1.1 million samples from five certified laboratories. The MRO’s reportedly reversed 87% of all the positive urinalysis test results due to false positives attributed to poppy seed ingestion, prescription medication, or other reasons.

The laboratory results showed that approximately 81% of the specimens tested positive for codeine and morphine had concentration levels under 2,000 ng/ml. As a result, NIDA guidelines have been amended, and cut-off levels for opiates have been increased to 2,000 ng/ml. The US military has set the cut-off level at 3,000 ng/ml to avoid false-positive results.

There are health claims that say the false positives are due to a lack of robust reliability in the urine screening technology. Even with the health claims, many organizations have decided not to take any chances with poppy seeds and drug testing. 

Federal prisons do not allow prisoners to eat poppy seeds and require prisoners to sign a form agreeing to abstain from eating poppy seed products while taking authorized leaves of absence because different organizations may use other guidelines for testing.

Before you take a drug test, think about your recent poppy seed consumption. Maybe today is a good day to eat something different, especially if you are in the drug pool or hunting for a new job.

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